Super Rugby Aotearoa's final game, a classic in Dunedin between the Highlanders and Hurricanes which was in doubt until the last quarter and featured absurd levels of skill and intensity in a near empty stadium, wasn't only memorable for what happened during the 80 minutes but also immediately afterwards.
Rugby players often get a hard time for what they deliver (or don't as the case may be) in post-match television interviews, but both captains Dane Coles and Ash Dixon excelled for not only being themselves in front of microphone-holding Sky TV commentator Christian Cullen, but for their honesty and clarity moments after a lung-busting thriller won 38-21 by the home side.
A minor point: If I were to offer constructive feedback to Cullen, a brilliant former All Black outside back still getting to grips with the TV game, it would have been to ask Coles about the lower leg injury which forced him from the field, and, ultimately, out of the North v South clash scheduled for next weekend. It may have been pertinent because Coles has had all manner of calf and Achilles problems in the past.
Regardless, it was Dixon's comments that hit the mark the most because, served with an easy question about Highlanders halfback Aaron "Nuggy" Smith celebrating his 150th Super Rugby match, the hooker, himself celebrating his 100th and possibly final game at this level, found his target with the accuracy of one of his lineout throws.
"Nuggy's 150th game was sensational and the scary thing is he's actually getting better," Dixon said. "He's a guy who's absolutely obsessed with rugby and he's addicted to trying to get better. I've never seen anyone prepare for a game like him."
Smith, at 31 years old, is turning into something approaching a national treasure for his ability to improve and form in what was generally an over-matched team this season; with his help the Highlanders won three of their eight matches and he may have assisted in the retention of head coach Aaron Mauger who is off contract this year.
With a severe shortage of outside backs and locks, the Highlanders probably shouldn't have finished as well as they did, and Mauger, as pleasant a professional rugby coach as you could meet, may have faced some difficult questions alongside his well-regarded assistant Tony Brown.
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As far as Smith goes, what can't be denied is that he should be an inspiration for rugby players everywhere. He has played 92 tests (11th equal on the all-time All Black list with the great Sean Fitzpatrick and way ahead of the next halfback, his long-time mate and rival TJ Perenara on 64), and despite his several well publicised ups and downs off the pitch he keeps delivering on it in a way that should lift every one of his teammates and even those who aren't.
At this point, Smith is defying time in not only his pursuit of excellence but his achievement of it. Despite the heights he has reached, he does in fact seem to be getting better which is remarkable for a player who relies on speed – speed to the near endless breakdowns and speed of pass.
He's more than that too, of course, because his vocal exhortations and celebrations of virtually every small victory by his teammates – his obsession, in Dixon's words – mean his teammates have little option but to rise to the challenge. At times during last weekend's match against the Hurricanes the handling of the Highlanders' front-rowers was almost as good as Smith's, another example of his influence.
In the past Smith has struggled to get the balance right for the Highlanders. Often he's tried too hard and his performances have suffered. He didn't do everything right this season, particularly with his kick strategy, but he was close to perfect and the big shame of it is we didn't get the chance to see more of him.