IF the world is a village, then the rugby world must be a hamlet.
Saturday’s Paris quarter-final is primarily a contest between two countries on opposite sides of the globe.
But it also has the look of an awkward family reunion at which pride and face-saving will be at stake as well as a place in the last four.
In the green corner, you have Bundee Aki, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park, all born and reared in New Zealand.
None of the trio have an Irish bloodline but have represented the country with distinction, on account of moving here at a time when the eligibility rules required three years’ residency rather than five.
Everyone’s motivation is different but the greater financial rewards on offer in Ireland, combined with what looked like a more straightforward route to Test rugby, played a part in their decision to come here.
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There was the perception on their departure, on the outside and perhaps internally for all three too, that they were not good enough to play for the All Blacks.
That getting a game for Ireland might be easier was hardly an outrageous assumption.
Aki was the first to arrive on Irish shores in 2014, at a time when the national team’s record against the All Blacks read 27 defeats and one draw in 28 meetings.
Since then, it is four wins apiece.
New Zealanders have helped Ireland lose their inferiority complex when it comes to New Zealand.
The ethics of someone being able to up sticks to the other side of the world and play international rugby for another country are a reasonable topic for debate.
But given the extent to which the All Blacks have relied upon the talent of players from neighbouring islands, they are perhaps not best placed to initiate it.
The real awkwardness, though, comes when you look at the Irish links in the All Blacks camp — attack coach Joe Schmidt and scrum coach Greg Feek, who worked together for Leinster and for Ireland in between 2010 and 2019.
Schmidt even became an Irish citizen in September 2015 and was revered as a coach with the Midas touch.
With Leinster, the Champions Cup had been won twice and the PRO12 and Challenge Cup once apiece in his three seasons.
His first two Six Nations campaigns produced two titles and he became an Irishman on the eve of the 2015 World Cup.
Widely expected to lead Ireland to uncharted territory at that tournament, his side made their traditional quarter-final exit but there was some mitigation with the calamitous list of injuries suffered during and after the victory in the final pool match against France.
A first win over the All Blacks in 2016 and a Grand Slam title in 2018 further enhanced the esteem in which he was held.
But there was another low ebb moment at the 2019 World Cup with another last-eight loss, which followed a defeat to Japan in the pool stage.
It is difficult to know if Schmidt’s reputation suffered more then or from what has been said and done since.
There was a respect for him and his record, of course, but perhaps not the almost adoration which his successor Andy Farrell commands.
After Saturday’s win over Scotland, Jack Conan said: “He just gets it. He just really gets it, more than any other coach I’ve ever played under or I’ve met.
“He just gets the game. He understands it and knows how to relay that to the players and how to big us up for the games and coach us in the right way.”
The back row name-checked Paul O’Connell, Mike Catt, Simon Easterby and John Fogarty too and said: “They’re unbelievable backroom and coaching staff. They are, I think, the best in the world and it’s an absolute joy to play for them.”
Schmidt was not exactly short on tactical nous himself, even if Farrell has introduced a more expansive brand rather than the more rugby-by-rote approach effectively deployed by his predecessor.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The bigger change is away from the training pitch and dressing room, where the Englishman has created a far happier environment and shown that success and empathy can co-exist.
For this tournament, in a departure from the norm, the IRFU have organised and covered the travel for players’ family members for matches.
Farrell explained: “It’s the right thing to do. If families are being looked after and they realise that that’s going on then it makes these lads’ lives a lot easier.
“And it’s not just because of that. It’s because we want to. We feel like we’re one big family and that’s how it should be.”
Captain Johnny Sexton said: “It’s been a huge help.
“It takes some of those stresses away in terms of trying to organise things off the pitch,
…. to be continued
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