A couple of days ago we caught up with a man who in this parish rates as one of the greats of the game. We accept that not many others might see it that way, but for us Conrad Smith was exceptional.
His highlights reel doesn't feature too many 90-metre tries. He wasn't Lomu-esque when it came to skittling defenders en route to the line. But there was nothing he couldn't turn his hand to, and unlike most others he could do everything pretty well. If he ever had a shocker of a game then he has buried it on Betamax in a dense forest somewhere on New Zealand's North Island.
The coincidence of rugby's restart this weekend - featuring his old pals in the Wellington Hurricanes this morning - and the tumultuous state of the game seemed like reason enough to give him a shout. Since finishing his playing career with Pau in the south of France he has continued there on the coaching staff, and taken up a lead role for International Rugby Players, the association that represents professional players worldwide.
It's an interesting time to be representing players, not least in England where the players' reps (RPA) are at war with Premiership Rugby (PRL) over clubs wanting to lop 25 per cent off players' salaries without involving them in the conversation. Negotiations between RPA and PRL broke down last week with the players' association readying themselves for legal action.
"To be honest they're (the players) a victim of the model they're under compared to New Zealand and Ireland and other countries that don't have, sort of, three parties (RFU, Premier Rugby and the Rugby Players Association) at play," Smith says. "I realised in New Zealand just how lucky I was, even coming here to France in terms of the relationship and the ability - and I don't want to use the word power - but just the ability of the players to contribute on the direction of the game in New Zealand is something that's very real. And it's not the same anywhere else in the world as far as I can see.
"Ireland is very good and probably the closest thing and on a par now - and I'm saying that not having been in Ireland physically to see it. I've seen what it's like in France and with my experience through International Players I've seen what it's like around the world, and it's not the same. And it's a pity because I know the benefit that New Zealand reaps from it, and it's not just a feel-good thing. I know, and it's good practice around the world. It's not just sport: the people who are working at the coalface need to have a say on how things are done. It works."
At that stage he hadn't seen the virtual press release on behalf of the IRFU that appeared in an Irish daily paper on Friday. It laid the groundwork towards a 20 per cent pay cut in players' wages.
The purpose of the exercise was to put the players on the back foot. The union could hardly have expected that it would run without any reaction included from those same players but, hey presto, that's how it read. Result!
That reaction is likely to come today with a statement from RPI (Rugby Players Ireland) saying they have the hump that the union broke cover, and that it's early days to be proposing cuts. We considered taking this nugget to the IRFU for their tuppence worth, but to be honest it takes so long to get anything back from their communications silo, and then translate it into simple English, we ploughed on.
So what we have now is the IRFU squaring up to the players telling them the rest of the staff are taking pain, so it's your turn. You'd struggle to find anyone on the island who doesn't think that sounds fair enough. Which, of course, is why the union prepared the ground by planting the story: if the negotiations hit rocky ground then the players will be eviscerated in the court of public opinion.
What makes this different to the man or woman in the street is that players sit on a shelf where life is short. Even if they suck every drop from it the span doesn't come close to comparing with a career on civvy street. Making that argument is tricky because the only picture visible is one of high profile and fat salary, and if folks can't see the picture of no profile and a drastically reduced wage then they have no interest in making the connection.
Equally the punter won't be too focused on the implicit stuff. When players decide to stay in the Irish system rather than take a bigger salary overseas it's because the IRFU have made a compelling case: only in extremis will you be picked for Ireland from abroad; and the player welfare package here is first class. Part of that deal is working for a caring parent rather than a sugar daddy, and when times are tight the players expect that to be manifest. Times are tight.
So as negotiations develop the IRFU will need to be crystal clear on their capacity to pay rather than what they would like to pay. If the former is loose change then the players have no case. If not they might take a leaf from Conrad Smith's book. His longevity was facilitated by a wonderful combination of wit and dexterity and an ability to survive being blind-sided. Rugby is back, and the bits and pieces have come with it.
Sunday Indo Sport
Replacement Bryn Gatland slotted a 79th minute drop goal to give the Otago Highlanders a 28-27 victory over the Waikato Chiefs as professional rugby union resumed after a three-month COVID-19 shutdown on Saturday.