ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Bit of a shame we were never given the grand finale Super Rugby Aotearoa deserved but at least yesterday's proxy decider was a living embodiment of everything that has been good about the competition.
The Highlanders were excellent in Christchurch: committed, ambitious and mostly smart. The Crusaders were all that and just a bit smarter. Even when they were behind there was a sense of inevitability about the result, just as there was about the destination of the trophy from the moment rugby resumed.
There's still a week to go but it's no more than a curtain call, so there's nothing stopping us reaching some broad conclusions.
1. Razor's Edge
With a history of bad dancing and hair that looks groomed by the breakers at Sumner Beach, there is still an element of the maverick about Scott Robertson but surely it is long past time for results to outweigh the perception.
This one will be asterisked for obvious reasons but it still had to be won and he's managed to do with a round to spare. That's four in a row for those counting and the idea he's simply done it by riding on the shoulders of the Crusaders' organisational excellence just doesn't hold as they had endured eight barren campaigns before his appointment.
All Robertson ever does is win. He might not be driving the All Black bus but this column has no problem declaring what is fairly obvious: he's the best rugby coach in the country.
His re-signing with New Zealand Rugby is important and welcome news.
2. SRA all the way
No apologies for being a cheerleader for this tournament. I haven't been this invested in rugby below test level since the post-Earthquake Crusaders fell one hurdle short of globetrotting their way to a title in 2011.
Twice-weekly derbies, Sunday afternoon footy, rarely a dull game – this is the rugby everybody wants to watch at the times they want to watch it.
Okay, a five-team competition is not sustainable for a number of reasons but its brief history was one to cherish.
2. Super Rugby Aotearoa Pt II
The only problem with the above is that it's a tough act to follow. The transtasman chest-puffing exercises that have dominated discussions about next year's competition might be a bit unseemly but it's hard to condemn New Zealand Rugby for finally understanding what its fan base wants.
I'll give you a clue: it's not the Rebels, nor the Force.
3. Sio sees… yellow?!
It beggars belief that Sio Tomkinson wasn't sent off following the shoulder charge that knocked Oli Jager into Tuesday.
Let's give him the benefit of doubt he probably doesn't deserve and say he was anticipating Jager receiving the ball and when he realised he wasn't he braced rather than followed through. If you believe that, you can make a case that it wasn't an act carried out with malice.
Unfortunately, even with that mitigation, it is irrelevant. Tomkinson blindsided a player without the ball and did so by putting a shoulder into the unsuspecting prop's head.
This is exactly the sort of foul that red cards are designed to try to eliminate. The failure to brandish it is more evidence that rugby at the elite level still doesn't treat player welfare as seriously as it should.
In fairness to Tomkinson, he had the good sense to look surprised that he only saw yellow.
4. From Chiefs to chumps
No team fell from grace from pre- to post-lockdown more than the Chiefs and with Warren Gatland sitting out 2021 to coach the British & Irish Lions you have to question the Hamilton-based side's short-term prospects.
While it might be tempting to give the "supercoach" a free pass this year due to the uniqueness of the circumstances, it was still a worry that the Chiefs were not so much directionless as they were direction obvious.
There's a lot of work to be done at the franchise.
5. Blues news
There are a lot of people who hate the Blues but even they would acknowledge that the team's return to relevance was great news for rugby.
It is no exaggeration to say they breathed life back into rugby in the country's biggest city. Seeing big crowds at Eden Park for a team not called the All Blacks must have been gratifying.
One quick question: Will the proposed Pasifika team for 2021 dilute some of that hard-won support?
6. Jordie's all grown up
The youngest Barrett brother has had a coming of age campaign. His talent has never been in question but he has made a habit of getting ahead of himself on the field, of getting too ambitious when caution is the best option.
Not this campaign. Barrett has still flashed those moments of brilliance (and kicked one of great long-range penalties in a win against the Chiefs) but what's been noticeable is a lack of the impetuosity that can bring him undone.
Although he missed time, he'd be a worthy candidate for SRA player of the year.
7. Richie wins, though
The guy that steers the Crusaders around the park, who is always on hand when they need a bit of inspiration – that's the player of the year.
8. A leader of men
One player who should not go unmentioned is Aaron Smith.
Smith has never given cause for concern over his playing ability but the same cannot be said for his maturity or leadership qualities.
This year he has been in vintage touch for the Highlanders, a team whose squad was so thin it was hard to picture them winning a game in SRA.
They might not have won that many, but at times, like yesterday, it felt like Smith was single-handedly keeping them in games, all the while keeping a much tighter lid on his emotions.
It is getting harder and harder to attract referees to rugby and it is easy to see why.
Not only must the constant reshaping of law-book priorities be frustrating but there is also a creeping trend of dissent and outright disrespect coming into the game.
It's a trend worth knocking on the head early. Yellow cards followed by one-week bans for serial ref-baiters should do the trick.
(Yes, I know, No 3 could be seen as an unnecessary dig at the officials. Sorry.)
10. Final marks
Unless something spectacularly good or spectacularly bad happens in the last week, the marks for the season are:
Crusaders A; Blues B+; Hurricanes B; Highlanders C+; Chiefs D-.