Very early on in Ireland's tour of New Zealand in 1992, it felt like there had been a mix up. Like the tourists had taken a wrong turn in departures in Heathrow and ended up flying to Auckland instead of anywhere else. It became a refrain on that trip as the massive disparity in standards would be driven home at every turn: why are we down here?
It was a reasonable question to ask. Hopelessly depleted from the off - lots of lads really didn't like the look of this trip - we argued that Ireland would have been better served devoting the summer to acquainting themselves with the basics of strength and conditioning.
The argument put forward by the Ireland team management was that you had to see the All Blacks, and their provinces, up close to appreciate the scale of the climb. You didn't. You could get a handle on that simply by opening your eyes. But yes, there was a value in playing a succession of teams who were all better than you. To get value from that, however, it has to be regular exposure, and you have to be prepared to make changes to implement what you learn. Those criteria are at the very heart of creating a competitive environment.
This boils down to weak teams getting games against strong ones. The great failing of rugby, which uses the word 'global' quite a bit, is that while it has a reach around the world it has a grip only in a small band of countries. Small wonder that in nine World Cups we've had the same eight nations featuring in the last four - half as many as football in the same period. So we know who is going to qualify in the first place and we know the two or three teams with a decent chance of winning.
Last week Bill Beaumont won the race against his younger rival Agustin Pichot for chairmanship of World Rugby. Portrayed as the avuncular Beaumont against the progressive young Pichot, it was like a lot of elections in this part of the world featuring two heavyweights who, depending on the lighting, looked quite the same. So Big Bill is pushing now for a global season and the return of last year's proposed Nations League. Was Pichot going to roll out something radically different if he got over the line? Eh, no.
The struggle to get some alignment between the hemispheres has been going on for what feels like an age, given more impetus with the mounting financial losses of the Sanzaar nations. As outlined here a fortnight ago, what we will likely get is neat compartments of Test rugby, with Japan and Fiji the big winners. In February and March the Six Nations will sort out annual business, while in the same window the Rugby Championship will run off, with Fiji and Japan added to the existing crew of Argentina, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Then in the autumn - September/October or October/November - the crossover would take place between the six teams in the north and the six in the south. If that comes to pass then it will be pretty much what was on the table last year, the difference now being outright panic to get some money into the coffers.
With Japan and Fiji on board you have tipped your cap to Tier 2. Locked and loaded, with the July Test window given over to clubs - France understandably are not crazy about Top 14 rugby at that time of year - sell it to a broadcaster and pull up the rope ladder. Fast.
So the 'exclusive' blueprint for international rugby revealed last weekend, by one of our colleagues across the water, sounded like it had bobbed along on the wave of goodwill that began to wash over the game as Covid-19 took hold. Time to recalibrate and take stock. Nothing will ever be the same again. Everything is up for discussion. Let's create a level playing pitch where the goalposts don't move every time one of the underdogs is teeing up the ball. Then the accountants got a handle on the size of the crater where the cash is going.
In that light it's hard to see World Rugby getting any traction for a series of "global leagues" that would facilitate movement driven by merit. Currently in Europe we have what in effect is a Six Nations B: the REC (Rugby Europe Championship) comprising Georgia, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Romania and Russia. It carries out its business, not quite under the cover of darkness, but virtually eclipsed by the Six Nations Championship.
One is a five star hotel, the other a hostel. A few years ago when the notion was floated of Georgia - the best of the rest in Europe - replacing Italy in the Six Nations, John Feehan (then Six Nations chief executive) slapped it back so hard it left a mark. Many were shocked by Feehan's arrogance at the time, but those same folks could not have told you the AA rating of the hostel to which Italy would be dispatched, or its location.
Imagine the conversation then for World Rugby and the nations' representatives around its table. "Folks, we're buying in new mattresses and changing the sheets," Big Bill Beaumont might say. "It won't be such a bad place to lay your head."
The World Rugby idea is to broaden the REC to include non-Europeans like Samoa, Uruguay and USA, then do something similar with the next tier of nations, and press go. If you look at Georgia's fixture list in 2018, the 12 months before the World Cup, they had Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Japan on their dance card in the second half of the year, as well as a one-off Test against Italy. So what World Rugby are proposing is not radical.
Milton Haig - coincidentally he featured for Bay of Plenty against Ireland on the tour in 1992 - lived the Georgia experience for eight years, through two World Cups. More than your average coach, he immersed himself in the culture of that country.
"Ok maybe they're thinking of an all singing and dancing Tier 2 competition, but really that's already there over a calendar year," he says. "When REC is done you play more T2s in June or July and then another few in the autumn series. I can't see how the new competition is going to be much different.
"In the next two to three years, especially with the financial state of nations in the Southern Hemisphere, there's no way in hell there's going to be an expanded programme of Tier 1 to Tier 2 . . . no way. Purely because: 'We're leaking money here, with some unions maybe losing 60 per cent of their revenue next year, so how are you going to make that up?' Well you're not going to be playing Tier 2! You're going to play against the big guys so you can fill your stadiums as much as possible and then charge top prices. That's what's going to actually help you regain some of that money you've lost already."
Haig moved to Japan after the World Cup while former England coach Andy Robinson took over in Romania. Robinson's job is tougher now than what faced Haig starting out in Georgia. The former Bath flanker would love to see a situation where every two seasons the worst performing team in the Six Nations, over that period, would play off over two legs against the best performer from REC. As a spectacle, in the right circumstances, it might carry some of the nuclear stress that attended the end-of-season promotion play-offs in England's Championship, trying to get into the Premiership. He felt the pain of that one during his time at Bristol. And he will be waiting for the light to go green on two-way traffic.
You’d think he has more chance of seeing a Romanian side getting a secure foothold again in the European Challenge Cup, something he sees as vital to building a decent national side. Even that seems a distance away. When EPCR replaced ERC they kicked off a third tier European competition, the Shield, which died after three seasons. As for the Challenge Cup, what will be the input from Spain and Italy to the tournament next season post-Covid?
"I want to play against teams that are above us - so Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Uruguay," Robinson says. "I want to be able to pick off all the teams that are above us, and with respect to a developing nation, one of those as well. So a Brazil or a Chile, but ultimately I want to be playing the better teams because that puts us in a position to step by step move forward. But to say Romania should be playing Tier 1 is not right. But Romania playing against A teams of Tier 1 nations, then yes."
Why not Romania touring somewhere like Ireland or the UK in early season to play three or four club sides? If necessary, their A teams? The rigour of touring a fully professional country would be invaluable.
For Haig, the equivalent when he was coaching Georgia would have been to have a crack off more teams.
"Even though we were one of the qualified teams for the 2019 World Cup our actual schedule went backwards," he says. "And we didn't deserve that. We deserved to be front and centre: if anybody's getting the better games, let's say playing England at Twickenham, it should have been Georgia as an already-qualified team for the World Cup.
"But I think the whole new world order's a bunch of baloney really. It will always be dictated by the top eight teams in terms of what's going to happen. Sure as eggs are eggs that's what's going to happen in the next two or three years as they try to make up some of the revenue they've lost.
"Like, in life, everyone finds their level. No way should Tier 2s ranked around 19/20/21 be playing Tier 1s every year because they haven't earned the right to play them. But if you're sitting around 12/13 on the world rankings, or you're already qualified for the next World Cup, then you deserve to be treated a little bit differently. You're already knocking on the door louder than those ranked behind you. There's nothing wrong with playing at your own level, but the ones at the top of Tier 2 need to be asked: 'Well how are you going to do against the bottom of Tier 1? Or a team ranked 7/8?' And then every now and again you might get a chance to play a team ranked one, two or three. You can't be everything to everybody."
Haig used to despair at the lip service paid to the likes of Georgia. It was like entering a room where a handful of people spoke to power and the rest could mumble to themselves. For the foreseeable future self-interest will be the only game in town. Unlike 1992, when Ireland were a mile off the pace, now we are up the front. Listening to the lower tiers won't be on the agenda.