On a bitingly cold winter's day in May 1992, the small press corps covering Ireland's tour of New Zealand settled into our crap motel in Christchurch. It was the last stage of the first leg of a marathon journey, and getting some heat into the room was a priority. Turning on the television added some warmth to the scene. Yes, we were desperate. As a bonus it allowed us the comfort of watching Canterbury and Queensland, a few miles away in Lancaster Park, coping with the elements outside.
hat was our first introduction to Super Rugby - the Super Six as it was then: three New Zealand provinces (Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington), two from Australia (Queensland and New South Wales) and Fiji. It was actually the second incarnation of cross-border Pacific competition, and pretty soon it would jump in size every time you looked at it. It got to a point where the number of teams had stretched to 18, covering Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan. Have a look at the map. It was an offence to nature, one that fans largely abandoned.
The ambition to expand was all about growth: as in, growing the TV deal. If South Africa wasn't on the end of the African continent and instead drifted east, let's say dropping anchor in the Tasman, you could probably throw a couple of rope bridges into place and bingo: Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, homes to the best players in the rugby world, would be tucked up together. And you would have the perfect model: a top quality cross-border competition that didn't involve destroying your body clock, didn't require fans to set their alarm clocks, and would generate top tv dollar.
When hopefully we kick off live rugby again here on August 22 it will be almost two years to the day since one of those Celtic Rugby/Pro12 statements that would remind you of former Ulster CEO Shane Logan's quest for world domination. In this case it was Pro12 CEO Martin Anayi teasing us - he's an awful divil that fella - about the prospect of more South African sides joining the Cheetahs and the Kings.
"Who those two extra teams are, it's quite fun to find out over the next few years and we have to make sure when they come in, whoever it is, they are very competitive from the outset," he said. "It's going to be exciting so we'll wait and see."
No Martin, it hasn't been exciting. And the more breathless the PR gush from that office about the number of Pro14 players who have run faster or jumped higher than their counterparts in the Premiership, the less credible it becomes. If the unsteady expansion of Super Rugby was driven ultimately by providing more games to keep the paymaster happy, then Pro12's stretch to Pro14 travelled a similar route.
Bringing the Cheetahs and Kings on board has been a lopsided exercise in quality enhancement. For every positive result from either of the South African sides there were a clatter of road crashes to endure. But it upped the wedge from the broadcasters, so crack on.
On the basis that it's an ill wind that blows no one any good then Covid-19 has hurried things along for the South Africans. They have long pined for access to Euro cash and less time spent recovering from jet lag. The pandemic has changed the picture. Super Rugby has long since stopped working, and there seems to be consensus that an Australia/New Zealand/Pacific combo is the best chance of a functional tournament next year. That would open the door to the South Africans hitching their cart to the Pro14. Except they might have to wait a bit until folks are happy with the idea of flying all over the shop. The Currie Cup looms until it all settles down.
Even then, will it be a simple shift up to 16 teams with the SARFU picking the four they want involved? There is nothing simple about this. Joining South Africa to this part of the world makes sense on the body clock, but it's still long haul travel. When our provinces have been going down to play the Cheetahs and Kings for the last two seasons they are mini tours - close to a fortnight with a squad of 30-plus including support staff. So do you add a second spin down there or do you stretch it out into a real tour? If it's going to be two bites of the cherry then it won't taste too sweet for whoever is signing off on the travel cost: well in excess of €400k.
"If it's a compelling commercial case, then fine," is how one man involved in the negotiations put it to us last week. It would need to be compelling, riveting and utterly transfixing. And it would need to be safe. What are the chances of that?
Covidian Theory has it that everyone is ready for some limbo dancing if it means getting some cash to pay the bills. So never mind how low you have to go on quality, get under the bar and get the wedge. But it's only temporary.
And the ultimate prize? For someone like Anayi, who landed in the Pro12 office five years ago, it's about growing the revenue, pointing to the pound signs, and then looking for the next challenge.Getting CVC on board was a big part of that. You would have thought it brought us closer to the vehicle that will carry the game in this part of the world forward: a British and Irish League. Except that the Italians are sharing the CVC wedge as well, which complicates the issue.
For the meantime however, it will be slimline and cool. And, like Super Rugby in the southern hemisphere, it will be our version of shopping local.