The final of the Farah Palmer Cup premiership on Saturday in Christchurch was not only a magnificent game, but also a signpost to the future of rugby in New Zealand.
Women's rugby, as much as any sport in this country, hasn't had an easy pathway. As Farah Palmer, who captained the Black Ferns to three World Cup victories, has recalled, trail-blazing women's teams in the 1980s "played on the back fields, got changed in their cars, or tents, wore second-hand jerseys from the men's team from last season, had to put up with sexist jokes and innuendo at the after match functions (if they were invited), but had a blast with their kindred spirits on and off the rugby field."
Now the number of women playing the game is the one area of growth in participation in New Zealand rugby, and Waikato's thrilling 22-20 win over Canterbury would make a great recruitment video.
Potentially the game could have lost its mojo, with Black Ferns unable to play, and the Waikato side having to frantically dart south as Covid-19 made its insidious way down the country.
Waikato began terribly, dropping a simple kick near their line, and conceding a soft try to Canterbury's Lucy Jenkins in the opening minutes.
But the jitters soon settled. When No 8 Victoria Edmonds, who has been playing her heart out for Waikato for ten years, plunged over for what would prove to be the winning try in the 67th minute, the joy her and her team expressed was limitless.
In a week when it was announced that professionalism would enter the women's 15-a-side game next year with Super Rugby Aupiki, and Waikato broke a tenacious four-year Canterbury stranglehold on the major provincial championship, Edmonds' post match interview on Sky was a perfect exclamation mark. Her words on their own may not have totally made sense, but who didn't fully understand the emotions when she suddenly exclaimed, "**** yeah!"
Three other talking points from the weekend's rugby
In the Bay they're reliving the glory days of the shield
If you grew up when big Ranfurly Shield games, like Auckland's 28-23 win over Canterbury at Lancaster Park in 1985, were followed more closely than some All Black test matches, the Hawke's Bay team is playing rugby that revives the shield legend.
The 34-22 scoreline against Tasman in Napier looks at first glance as if it might have been a comfortable afternoon's work. In fact, after a stunning start that saw the Bay lead 17-3 after 16 minutes, Tasman, the form team in the Covid-truncated premiership, clawed their way back to be just behind, 24-22, 10 minutes after halftime.
Nobody played poorly for Hawke's Bay, but two men deserve to be singled out. One was captain Ash Dixon, who never got the call to the All Blacks, but always plays like one, being at once hugely physical, while staying clinically accurate.
The other was halfback Ereatara Enari, the 24-year-old signed to the Bay from the Crusaders. Enari has a stellar background, with two years in the New Zealand under-20s, and the speed of his passing was matched by the pace he showed scoring the Bay's opening try.
It's clear from the jubilation in the Bay squad, and the devastation in the Tasman ranks, that if Covid, and time, has limited crowds for Ranfurly Shield challenges, the trophy they called the Log of Wood still resonates with today's players.
He didn't even have a trampoline
In a game that was enthralling anyway, Tasman wing Timoci Tavatavanawai turned on an aerial display that deserved a big top, a ringmaster, and spotlights. The former Fijian under-20 player soared up and cleanly stole the ball three times at kickoffs, which doesn't sound as amazing as it was watching him rise above the taller timber of the Bay forward pack.
It was good to see Sam Whitelock looking as determined and hard-nosed as ever for Canterbury, but the greatest pleasure from a return to the field was the sight of Sam Cane in Taupō, as committed as he always is while playing for King Country. It's six months since Cane tore a right pectoral tendon in a Super Rugby game for the Chiefs at Eden Park.
Due to play 40 minutes in Taupō, he stayed on for almost 60, emerged unscathed, and added the perfect old-school grace note by saying he was dropped off for the game by his Dad.