The Rugby World Cup announcements continue to generate buzz around the world, with Australia and the United States particularly buoyant for what looms as an historic period for the game over the next 10 years.
Down Under, the immediate focus is on the closing two rounds of Super Rugby Pacific, with the final ladder positions still uncertain and the all-important home playoff matches still up for grabs.
Read on as we look at some of the big talking points in the game in the latest edition of Rugby Real or Not.
Taniela Tupou should be Rugby Australia's top priority long before the pursuit of any NRL players
Real. News last week that Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was confident about retaining Taniela Tupou will have been music to the ears of Australian rugby fans across the country, the caveat being that it will likely take a Japanese sabbatical to get the deal done. But that is a small price to pay for a player who looms as a bedrock of the next two World Cup campaigns, the 2027 tournament on home soil in particular. Tupou will be 31 by the time the world comes to Australia in 2027 and likely in the absolute prime of his career.
With 37 caps to his name already, he would likely have almost doubled that figure, too, come 2027, that international experience invaluable for a Wallabies team that will have seen the likes of Michael Hooper, James Slipper, Nic White, Samu Kerevi and Rory Arnold long moved on. It will be imperative, too, that Tupou is managed between now and then, and giving him the opportunity to have one - even two - separate stints in Japanese rugby could be the best way to ensure he isn't run into the ground, as would likely be the case in a long and arduous European season. So placing the retention of Tupou above any potential raid on the NRL ranks is a no-brainer.
-- Sam Bruce
Jake Gordon was right to call 22-18 defeat a 'step in the right direction' despite blown 15-point lead
Not real. We can all see where Jake is coming from here. Last year he captained a side that failed to win a single match, while they struggled to make any sort of impression against their Kiwi rivals. But times have changed, the Waratahs have found themselves in play-off contention with seven wins, including a stunning victory over the Crusaders, and his side has shown they have the talent and execution to compete with the best. Racing out to a 15-nil lead on Saturday, the Tahs demonstrated just how lethal they can be when given a chance, but to collapse yet again as was witnessed against the Chiefs, the Reds and in their rocky win over the Crusaders, it shows this young team still have a long way to go.
A step in the right direction would be the Tahs capitalising on all the pressure they created in the first half to build an even larger lead, or simply holding the Hurricanes out in those final desperate minutes. You can't blame Gordon for wanting to look on the bright side though, just 12 months ago his team shipped 68 points in their corresponding game and a silver lining was non-existent.
-- Brittany Mitchell
Pablo Matera has been the buy of the season
Real. He may have got off to a reasonably sluggish start, but Pablo Matera has the past few weeks reaffirmed his status as a world-class back-rower, playing a key role in what appears to be a Crusaders team that is peaking at the right time. There's no doubt it took Matera some time to find his feet at the Crusaders and to settle into Scott Robertson's systems, but with the game plan down pat the Pumas captain has started to produce the line-bending runs and offloads in the wider channels that were the hallmark of his game at the Jaguares and with the Pumas. He is also increasingly making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown and, more importantly, playing with a smile on his face after a difficult two years when he lost the Argentina captaincy and was one of seven Pumas players who broke SANZAAR COVID protocols during last year's Rugby Championship.
If ever there was a character that was going to do well under Michael Cheika it is indeed Matera; how the duo hones their respective passion and form a partnership is set to add plenty of intrigue to the southern hemisphere's Test showpiece event from August. Honourable mention as buys of the season must go to locks Luke Romano and Jed Holloway, who have both been excellent additions to the Blues and Waratahs respectively.
-- Sam Bruce