Over the past six weeks, the New Zealand sevens team had a glimpse of life without captain D J Forbes.
The question now is: Was that period a premonition?
In his 57 tournaments, Forbes has been an inspirational figure on the sevens circuit. His experience and leadership are invaluable. He educates young players to the high standards demanded and also ensures composure is maintained in pressure situations.
But he has reached a crossroads. There are concerns his body won't last the distance to the coveted 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
After being laid up for six weeks with foot and knee injuries, Forbes must prove his fitness at a training camp next week to confirm his place in Sir Gordon Tietjens' 12-man squad that contests the World Cup in Moscow, Russia, at the end of this month.
His long-term future, though, is murkier. In a perfect world, Forbes would lead Tietjens' team to contest gold in Brazil, but there are no guarantees.
"D J is in a situation now where if the injuries get on top of him, he'll have to make a decision," Tietjens told Sunday News. "I'll be guided by D J and also the medical staff on how his injuries are moving forward.
"It's no different to Richie McCaw and those guys who are looking at the 2015 World Cup. No- one knows if they'll make it. If the team isn't performing, the first area the critics target is the players that have been there a long time. There's a fine balance you have to get right.
"When you have to start managing player's injuries it becomes more and more difficult because every game you play there is a likelihood it's going to get worse.
"If D J can, above all expectations, get the medics approval and his body comes through fine, I have no questions he can be there [Rio]. That's going to be guided by the severity of his injuries. He's got a foot and a knee injury on one leg . . . ongoing for a while now. We've been managing it. But there comes a time when they'll play a massive part in your performance."
Forbes is waiting on signoff from the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Players' Association on the collective agreement. The pending deal should enable him to sever ties with Counties Manukau and commit solely to sevens. At 30, his body can't take another NPC campaign, as well as the ruthless demands of a nine- month sevens season.
"Hopefully the NZRU and Players' Association can make that call for us sooner rather than later. In terms of the demands on the boys, it's pretty tough. I'm probably paying the price now," Forbes said.
At present, sevens players who play all nine tournaments can earn a maximum of $63,000 per year. It is understood under the new collective up to 10 fulltime players will have their wages boosted to between $70,000 and $120,000 a year, dependent on status and experience. By 2016, high-end sevens salaries could reach $150,000. That form of compensation could be a lifeline for Forbes. Tietjens doesn't believe in sabbaticals, but a significant wage increase would allow Forbes to preserve his weary body and skip the NPC.
"Definitely a lot of the boys are going to have to decide to play one or the other," Forbes said. "If there is any possibility [of playing in Rio] I'm keen as. I still feel I can play for another three or four years. In saying that, there is a lot of young talent coming through."
If Forbes' body doesn't hold up, Tietjens is subtly grooming Waikato's Tim Mikkelson.
"He's a natural leader," Tietjens said.
- © Fairfax NZ News