Dear Cousin Tjastik,
Last year the deep south enjoyed their finest hour as their Otago Highlanders won a Super Rugby title.
It was so epic Tjas, that I even downed a few Speights myself up in Auckland - don't worry yourself about what Speights is, I'm sure you've got better beer and lots of ruthless vodka that you'd prefer.
I remember when you wrote to me after that final, rather confused...
Are they Scottish?
Who is Elliott Dixon?
If New Zealand is a rugby farm, why do these Highlanders have a Japanese halfback?
Ben Smith played for Canterbury though, right?
Tjas, people like to talk about the Blues far too often. They'll celebrate the Chiefs and their funky style, they'll sing the praises of the Hurricanes and applaud a Crusaders team who somehow find ways to reinvent themselves to maintain parity with our nation's best Super Rugby teams.
People like to spend a lot of time and energy on other Super Rugby teams, I'd point out to you Tjastik that a very solid, resurgent Highlanders team is the foundation of any recent/modern All Blacks success. Other teams might have more All Blacks and possess kiwi qualities that we love, no team oozes kiwi qualities more so than the Highlanders who rely more on the sum of their parts than the individual part. They do that Tjastik by playing/conducting their business with a hard working spirit that other teams try to emulate while the Highlanders do it the best.
Just as the rugby world tries to come to terms with an All Blacks team who throw the footy around with glee, this is reflected by teams like the Chiefs (and Blues) who play an entertaining and effective (not quite for the Blues) style.
What is slept on (overlooked, sorry about the slang Tjas) is that the Highlanders represent kiwi rugby just as much as the Chiefs, they represent the grit and rugged nature of the All Blacks.
That's led by Waisake Naholo, who is back on the wing for the Highlanders and if there's one though that I want to leave you with from this letter Tjas, it's that Naholo is a near-certainty to score when given the ball 10m out from the try-line. You might tackle him - like Damien McKenzie did - but he'll score as he's too big, too powerful, too quick.
Those attributes obviously help the Highlanders right across the park as Naholo doesn't need much space to cause damage. Give him the ball outside of the opposition's 22m and he'll make metres or create a point-scoring opportunity, give him the ball inside the opposition's 22m line and he'll score a try.
That suits the Highlanders nicely as well. After they beat the Chiefs, the Highlanders talked about playing without the footy, kicking a lot of footy away. That's usually frowned upon in Aotearoa as teams attack from anywhere, yet the Highlanders backed themselves to put pressure on the Chiefs with their defence and then relied on a weapon like Naholo to make the most of any whiff of an opportunity.
As a fine Slovenian rugby player, perhaps the best (you go alright you geezer), imagine yourself lining up against Naholo. Imagine being a club rugby battler, lining up against Naholo Tjas...
What do think Tjastik; is Naholo the best winger in the world?
More water needs to flow under the bridge first, he needs to tie this came together with another strong game and so on. Julian Savea may also have something to say about that, trying to pick a winner between Savea and Naholo right now is way too hard.
Could Naholo be the best winger in the world ... better than Savea? Sure, there's something about Naholo that I can't put my finger on. Lighter feet? More speed? I dunno Tjas.
I feel like Naholo is a freak, whereas I feel like Savea is a really good winger, a massive truck on the flank.
Ah well, you'll probably get to put them up against each other when they line up on opposite flanks for the All Blacks.
Peace out Tjastik.