Rugby in Aotearoa is highly efficient which is clearly evident in the success of the All Blacks as everything and everyone involved in professional rugby in Aotearoa is perfectly aligned for All Black everything. While watching the kiwi Super Rugby teams so far this season has been fun and full of entertainment, these are weird times for kiwi rugby as the distractions and different facets of international rugby in 2016 pull in different directions.
The obvious elephant in the room right now is Sevens and it appears to have everyone in a spin as the All Blacks Sevens team (men) struggle to maintain their perch on top of the Sevens world. In truth, the kiwis have always battled away strong challenges from the likes of Fiji and South Africa but now they are losing to teams who should never come close to any 'All Blacks' team with worrying regularity.
Being worried about the Sevens team right now, is rather silly and it doesn't take much research or general sporting knowledge to understand their current predicament. The Sevens world has improved rapidly with the hope of Olympic glory while our kiwi lads have had to endure a hefty injury toll ... and Super Rugby.
As other countries pour more and more resources into their Sevens programs, the margin for error gets smaller and smaller. If you don't have your strongest team at a tournament, you'll struggle to win, this isn't reason for concern, especially not with reinforcements on their way.
I can't help but think though that while all these other Sevens teams are fine-tuning their systems, rosters etc ahead of the Olympics, our Sevens team is a bit all over the show at the moment. The likes of Rieko and Akira Ioane, Ardie Savea and Sonny Bill Williams would improve any Sevens team, which eases any worries, I don't think anyone would argue however that having the Ioane brothers and Savea with the Sevens team full-time would only beneficial.
What's important to remember with the Sevens is that Sir Gordon Tietjens is the coach and if there's any coach who I'd happily trust on the hunt for Olympic gold, is Tietjens. Somewhere in Tietjens' seemingly endless depths of rugby wisdom, there will be a plan and we are merely along for the ride. It's natural for angst to creep in while executing that plan as well, especially when that plan involves a certain Sonny Bill.
The Sevens storyline is running parallel to that of Super Rugby and as is always the case with Super Rugby - All Blacks selection. While I've loved watching the kiwi Super Rugby teams in full-flight, Super Rugby itself isn't much fun and if the kiwi teams weren't so awesome, Super Rugby would be up shit's creek.
Super Rugby was fighting a losing battle before it even began this season as everyone debated one of the more complex competition structures in the world. I'm all for expansion and I love the inclusion of the Sunwolves and Jaguares as it shows the Super Rugby has ambitions of being the biggest rugby competition (in all aspects) in the world, expansion does dilute talent though which means growing pains must be felt.
This is where the classic arrogant kiwi rugby fan pipes up, claiming that the Sunwolves are an embarrassment and what not. The presence of the Sunwolves and Jaguares points to a long-term vision that will be immensely positive for kiwi rugby and international rugby down the track - as I said these are simply growing pains. That classic arrogant kiwi rugby fan also piped up with the Jaguares left a bunch of their starters at home (how dare they tour NZ without their best team!?). To me that's just good planning as the Jaguares clearly won't win anything - nor will the Blues - this season, they are laying the foundation for future success, just as the Blues are.
What has troubled me about Super Rugby the most has been the standard of the non-kiwi teams. Kiwi derbies are fun, they are some of the best games of rugby you will ever see but is Super Rugby as a competition really living up to its billing when kiwi teams are that much better than everyone else? This comes on the back of a Rugby World Cup where the All Blacks were clearly the best team with South Africa and Australia offering stiff opposition that didn't stand much of a chance. While the likes of Japan and Georgia showed rugby's growth, spreading good vibes through the rugby world, the gap between the All Blacks at the rest of the rugby world was as big as it's ever been.
Super Rugby and international rugby is awesome when it's a ruthless battle between different nations or teams from different nations. I get my dose of all-kiwi rugby every year in the NPC (/insert sponsor here), which to me is the best domestic rugby competition in the world, what excites me about Super Rugby is seeing different styles, different players and different methods going at each other. Super Rugby isn't giving me that, just a glorified NPC, which is cool ... when it's a kiwi derby ...which the NPC gives me each week.
Curveball - what's if Australia, South Africa, even England come together strongly as national teams and all our Super Rugby dominance doesn't translate to the All Blacks?
What's the priority this year?
Is it Sevens? The world cares a lot more about Sevens in an Olympic year than they do about 15-man rugby, is Sevens a clear priority over Super Rugby/All Blacks for us this year?
Is it Super Rugby dominance? Dominating a mediocre competition is a bit meh, especially when resources could be poured into Sevens.
Is it the All Blacks coming together, bouncing back after a World Cup win with a fresh squad?
I don't know much at this stage, I'm just enjoying this confusing ride.
Well, I do at least know what my numero uno priority is at the moment which is thanks to Super Rugby's flaws. Sevens is the biggest thing in international rugby this year, nothing else really matters on an international scale and that's what I'm most interested in.