I cooked a butterflied Canterbury leg of lamb for the Crusaders game on Saturday night. Seemed appropriate, put the damn thing to the slaughter and all that. Channelling the vibes to AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
The only trouble was, I did it on the barbecue with the lid down and went away, got distracted and burnt that leg to a crisp. Well, that's an exaggeration, it was edible. But Canterbury lamb got the last laugh on me, I'll admit it.
The frustrating thing about watching the Blues play the Crusaders is not that they lose. It's not even that they get close to winning but don't. You don't mind that too much, because the Crusaders are by far the best team in the competition.
It's that if the Blues are good enough almost to win, as they were on Saturday and in their earlier game against the Crusaders this season, you should at least know they'll be plenty good enough to beat most of the other teams, right? But, sadly, you know it isn't so. That's what's depressing.
For this game, unusually, the Blues allowed their opponents to keep hold of the ball. In recent weeks it's been the Blues with most of the possession and most of the territory too, and the question has been: please, oh Lord please, can you turn that into points?
This time it was the Crusaders making all the plays, keeping the Blues crushed inside their red zone. And yet the Blues were great: they let in only one try. That's an awesome achievement.
At halftime it was 13-3 and most people watching were probably expecting the Crusaders to score an easy 30 points more, but no, the Blues outscored them in the second half and the game ended 19-11. Yay.
Rieko Ioane, a ballet dancer with bigger thighs, scored a lovely try, which the ref then had the temerity to check with the video replay. Duh. When Ioane puts the ball down he drops one hand with the ball cupped under it, touching down without slowing down.
It's not a skill given to ordinary mortals but you'd think a Super Rugby ref would understand these guys are a bit special. A few weeks back Ioane did it while flying through the air.
The thing is, they didn't win but they really were pretty good.
They didn't even have anyone yellow-carded, although that's only because the ref was outrageously soft on Malani Nanai's try-saving attempt to scythe Richie Mo'unga's head from his shoulders.
Every time refs let them get away with that, a few hundred more kids and their parents go, nup, rugby still doesn't get it. Same, every time Justin Marshall and his crock-headed commentary mates don't call it straight.
It was one try each, by the end, but the Blues conceded four penalty goals. The Crusaders gave up as many penalties, but the Blues couldn't kick theirs.
One of the stories of the season, right there: the Blues do not have a competition-ready goal-kicker.
Harry Plummer, who's not a bad player, managed just one, but then put up a kick in open play that put his whole team offside, and the Crusaders promptly got their three points back. Up in the coaches' box, Leon MacDonald did his usual exasperated, arms-aloft, how-can-that-even-happen-but-don't-worry-I'm-calm thing, and then presumably stormed out the back to throw things against the wall.
Poor kicking was not the only reason they lost.
The Crusaders forwards play a deadly game of rugby. Slowing the ball, killing it, lying in the way, and they got away with it all game long. Blues leader Patrick Tuipulotu did his best to persuade the ref it wasn't right, rising to full height, eyes flashing, beard wildly bristling, but nothing happened.
What was it with that ref? Burnt leg of lamb for brains or something?
It's hard to blame the Crusaders for doing things the ref says are legal. And in the end, you have to blame the Blues. They cannot have been surprised the Crusaders would play like that and they didn't know how to counter it.
It was an awful game, really. Even if the Blues did try so hard. Blues prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi duked it out in the front row with the Crusaders' Joe Moody for 73 minutes, which must have been as punishing as going to war with a steamroller, for both of them, but while I'm humbled by the immensity of it, you can't say it was great to watch.
Ma'a Nonu got subbed off after 53 minutes and that told you everything. He's never subbed off. He makes two or three mistakes a game, but each time he does so he compensates with a string of magnificent plays. He's not quite fast enough but he's skilled enough and modest enough to get the ball quickly to those who are.
He's the inspiration. He's Jon Snow in battle, the guy you rally round, the guy who will lead you to victory or death and if it's going to be death you want to be there when it comes, standing at his shoulder.
Oh, what a cruel thing the Crusaders did to Ma'a Nonu. Turned him into the other Jon Snow, the one who's not in battle: a shaggy man with confusion smeared all over his face. A man who knows nothing.
At 16-11, with 8 minutes to go, all it needed was a penalty or a quick drop goal and then something brilliant for a converted try. It's tough, knowing these things to be true, in theory, and trying not to know that in reality they are not going to happen. Which they didn't. Instead, the Blues gave away another penalty.
Still in, remotely, with a chance of the playoffs, and the last home game is this Friday against some dumb South African side that never travels well. One of those games, if you've nearly beaten the Crusaders, you should certainly win.
So, come on Blues, just do it. Play like inspired, demented warhorses. Kick those goals and waltz in with those tries. Make a fool of me.
The peas, by the way, were good. The roast potatoes and kūmara were outstanding. None of them were grown in Canterbury.