Full marks to Wyatt Crockett for calling time on his Test career this week.
He's going out on his own terms with two Rugby World Cup winner's medals and 71 Tests to his credit. But it's a decision that has probably eased the burden on All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who may have had to make that call. It's still a fair while out from the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, and Crockett, at the age of age of 35, faced a long haul to make it.
Crocket has played 188 games for the Crusaders, won the Super Rugby title last year and still has a chance for another this year, and I also think it is great that he has decided to give two years back to Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup. He decision continues a recent trend of players stepping down a level to offer something back to the local game, which can only be good.
Crockett has made a huge contribution to the New Zealand game; he has come in for criticism at times, but you can't take away from the fact that he is an immensely strong man and, when he is on form, there are not too many props in world rugby who can hold him. He is strong not only in scrummaging but also around the field as well. He's really physical whenever he goes on to the field, and it is quite obvious that he is well respected by all his peers and teammates.
With his long back, he was a difficult opponent for many. Scrumming against him could only ever go two ways. If you could bend him, and get his chin down on his chest, you could overcome him. But if you couldn't bend him, then he could get the power through and you were going to be in a pile of trouble. When he got underneath his opponent, and got his power going forward, he was very destructive.
As a player who has had his critics, he will enjoy in retirement the fact that they be able to criticise him anymore and that his playing record and achievements will speak for themselves.
The gap he leaves does not look as wide as it might have a few years ago. Joe Moody should be back soon while Kane Hames will also feature. I also quite like the look of Daniel Lienert-Brown, and other players will emerge, as they always do, through the Super Rugby season.
Questions remain over England back-row
It was interesting to see England's winning run halted by a rampant Scotland in the Six Nations.
The Scots were dynamic in the loose.
England don't appear to have mastered the need to be clinical at the breakdown -- something we in New Zealand have recognised for some time. They don't field an out-and-out fetcher in the No. 7 jersey, and tend to prefer players capable of knocking doors down with their size but who lack the finesse the position requires.
Neil Back (and possibly Stefan Armitage) was probably the last England player of that type, and he's got a Rugby World Cup winners' medal to show for the value he provided to their side. When they have a back-row player with speed, it is interesting that they tend to place him at No. 8.
England also don't appear able to solve problems on the field. When something's not going right, they are slow to react -- if they do at all before a break when someone gets a message to them. It's as if they are programmed to do one thing. We saw that only last season, when Italy employed the no-ruck ploy and the England players showed they didn't know the laws because they weren't sure what to do.
But you can't take anything away from Scotland. They were brilliant. My phone was red hot with text messages coming in from my Scottish mates on Sunday morning. It's a great reward for what we've seen Scotland trying to do with their game over the past couple of years. Vern Cotter started it and then Gregor Townsend has stepped in, and they are clearly doing something right.
The All Blacks saw that when they nearly paid the price in Edinburgh in November.
With their regional sides doing well in European competitions, rugby is certainly on something of a high in Scotland and that is reflected in the national team. Good on them.
Bryn Gatland encouraging for Blues
In New Zealand all the focus was on the return of Super Rugby. The Blues looked better and more composed under pressure. Bryn Gatland looked to perform well at first five-eighth, and that is a good sign.
The Blues need someone who is prepared to take responsibility at first five-eighth. I remember when Grant Fox was there, he used to give halfback Brett Iti a real roasting if things were not right. Talent is all very well but success comes from having the ballsy approach to say to players, 'This is how I want it'; that is so important. But it is encouraging to think where the Blues might be able to go with Gatland and Stephen Perofeta to call on -- and Otere Black to come back into the picture, probably for next season.
Speaking of first five-eighth, there were some positive signs from Damian McKenzie for the Chiefs but clearly he is going to have to work on his judgment of passing to his outsides given the interceptions that were going on. At the same time, his elusive qualities can't be under-stated and McKenzie and halfback Brad Weber could be capable of unleashing some real fireworks when they have made the most of their combination.
Injuries have struck at the Chiefs although you have to ask when has that never been the case; but their list at the moment is daunting, and the Blues must take advantage in their game at Eden Park on Friday.
It was interesting to see the way the Highlanders stuck to their guns to beat the Blues in Dunedin, and you could see the influence of Aaron Mauger in their backline with a lovely try for Rob Thomson from a set play. It was also wonderful to see Aaron Smith settling back in immediately at halfback with some beautiful flat passes to put the likes of Tei Walden into try-scoring gaps.
The Crusaders showed again why they will be frontrunners. It was close until that 70th-minute penalty try conceded by the Chiefs, but that seemed to give the Crusaders the lift to cruise home. You always felt that they would come up with something in the final 10 minutes to get them home. Their scrum produced some outstanding pressure at key moments, and that will only get better as the season progresses. At the same time, it will be interesting to see how they manage against the bigger Stormers pack on Saturday in Christchurch.