OPINION: It's about now that Super Rugby descends into farce.
Just as the scrapping among the New Zealand conference teams begins to tilt toward fever pitch, the elite players from four franchises (the Highlanders are excused because they are still hobbling through their overseas tour) have been hauled away to attend an All Blacks "wider training group" camp in Mt Maunganui for three days.
Between them the Crusaders and Chiefs, who clash in a vital derby match in Hamilton on Friday night, will be missing 15 players until Wednesday.
Next week the training camps will be repeated as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen again introduces the players to his tactics ahead of next month's series against France. More disruption.
Although the Crusaders, with nine players absent, have been forced to carry the heaviest burden it is difficult to believe Chiefs boss Dave Rennie will be spinning cartwheels about this messy business.
This must be immensely frustrating for the likes of Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder and Rennie, who have more to fret about than just players suffering injuries during these camps.
They must also hope their men don't mentally tune out from their Super Rugby jobs - because that is where their allegiances must lie for the next fortnight at such a crucial time of the season.
Losing momentum after four consecutive wins would be a disaster for the Crusaders.
Just why Hansen has been permitted to stage these camps at such a crucial time of the season requires some scrutiny.
Why did the Super Rugby coaches agreed to this?
Is it because they know the New Zealand Rugby Union, which controls the players through the central contracting system, will just over-rule any concerns anyway?
Why do franchises have to lose their players for up to six days (the total of both camps) when it is conceivable Hansen could prepare his squad in half that time, or less, and will also assemble his squad in Auckland six days before the opening test at Eden Park.
Has anyone asked when this interference will end?
If this had been a World Cup year, few would begrudge the All Blacks coaching staff this request.
But it's not. It's another ho-hum domestic test series.
Who, if anyone, on the NZRU board has voiced concerns about the All Blacks - once again - being given priority over a lesser competition?
We have already seen how much the NPC has been watered down and now Super Rugby is copping a hit.
After the first test at Eden Park the All Blacks will play again in Christchurch and New Plymouth.
During that period the Super Rugby coaches can only hope their internationals don't get hurt before returning for the final round-robin matches.
At least they will be used to sitting and waiting, having done just that while their players swot up on their All Blacks duties in Mt Maunganui in the next week or so.
What's the big deal? the NZRU might say: it's not as if the Crusaders or Chiefs have a big match to prepare for. It's only Super Rugby.
- © Fairfax NZ News