England’s Grand Slam, Clean Sweep Down Under and Unbeaten Autumn.
In their own Back Yard, the Aussies lost it on and off the field. Searching Eddie’s bags on arrival at the Airport for clues wasn’t going to help. Australia played most of the rugby but couldn’t close it out – reminded me of the Springboks versus the Lions in 1997. Look in the book, England said – and then repeated it for good measure in a carbon copy effort at Twickenham in their undefeated Old Mutual Wealth Series. What a year against the Wallabies – a Kangaroo well and truly tied down. And all that after a Twickenham humiliation only months earlier. The Grand Slam was cursory in a way – first year after World Cup is always slightly underwhelming for the tournament which was in all honesty quite dull. England was repairing damage done, so a different mentality and in their eyes only a step along the way. Now, another one may start the pulses racing…
Saracens Double Triumph
It takes some doing these days. They don’t always win popularity contests but they showed the club world how to take on all comers domestically and in Europe. Many of their team are now World Class or close to it – what an accolade when for them it’s the team that counts. Anyone who saw them play against Toulon this year will know they can destroy the best on their own patch. I love this team and they are the ones to beat again.
Ireland’s Foley Tribute
The men in Green paid Anthony Foley the ultimate tribute by lining up in a figure of eight to face the Haka of the mighty and unbeaten All Blacks. They then proceeded to demolish the Kiwis with their own irresistible combination of fanatical defence and conversion of every chance which came their way. It was great theatre and undoubtedly deserved. Memories of an inglorious World Cup exit against the rampant Pumas are well in the past now.
Azzurri down the Springboks
Noone really believed Conor O’Shea when he said that Italian Rugby was on the rise and suddenly they turn over the admittedly sub-par South Africans. They then ruined it by losing to Tonga the following week, but already the alarm bells are sounding for those who have to travel to Italy in the Six Nations.
94,000 in the Nou Camp for Top 14 Final
Could you believe it – during the Euros Football Finals, late June in Barcelona, in one of the most famous football stadia in the world, the domestic French final between Racing 92 and Toulon was played out in front of a world record crowd. The era of the big audience for top Club rugby is well and truly upon us.
Fiji Kings of the World
How fitting for the Kings of the Seven-a-side game to put on such an exhibition while en route to Olympic Gold. Their humility and grace when receiving their medals will also live in the memory. Just a shame they had to journey to Twickenham with little or no preparation to play England in November. It wasn’t even a payday. Nonetheless, they are wonderful to watch and even in the professional era can take your breath away with extraordinary skill.
Maoris do MurderBall
You could see the nervous look on the Maori faces as the tourists tried their hand at Wheelchair Rugby, or better known as MurderBall due to its aggressive and sheer physical nature. A great experience for the Invictus Athletes made up of Wounded service personnel and they gave the Maoris plenty to worry about.
Spain make it to Olympic Finals
While Fiji stole the plaudits, it was Spain who stole everyone’s hearts by getting to Rio in the first place. They beat Sevens experts Samoa to get there, and we all celebrated their passion and commitment. They have a fifteen-a-side team in the European Qualifying tournament. We will watch their progress with excitement.
Beauden Barritt – Simply the best
You had to rub your eyes to believe the quality of this man’s play through 2016 – not to forget his cameo in the RWC Final of 2015. He has taken fly half play to another level – some accolade when you think he has replaced the great Dan Carter. It is not just his skills,eye for the opportunity and distribution but his extreme pace on the wide outside. A poor goal kicker but it sort of doesn’t matter if as a team you are racking up 5 tries a match on average.
England v Ireland, Dublin 2017
This is going to be THE International match of 2017 whatever the results in the lead up. It will really prove if England is the real deal, and speak volumes about the revitalised Irish under Joe Schmidt who seems to have produced the next generation of Irish players out of a hat. These two will be strong contenders for the next World Cup in Japan, alongside the All Blacks.
World Rugby gets tough on Concussion Protocol.
About time too. Some administrators and coaches, if not players, are still in denial about head contact in the game. Of course heads will get banged around, but not through head ‘ hits’ ( as they are called rather than tackles ) or ‘ no arm clear-outs’ which are downright dangerous and cheap shots to boot. They will soon learn, as you cannot win matches with 13 players on the pitch. We still have a long way to go but it’s a start. Disciplinary panels will be busy, and should be instructed to lecture the guilty party on the consequences of further infringements.
First Test British and Irish Lions v All Blacks
If there’s any energy left after such a long season, this will be a Christmas cracker in June. A Lions team dominated by England and Ireland with some high quality Scots and Welsh in the mix could mean the strongest Lions team on tour since 1989. But then how many injuries between now and then may diminish the first team squad ? They HAVE to win the First Test or else it’s an uphill struggle.
France make a comeback
As unlikely as it seems , with their domestic game infested with overseas players and their top stars grossly overplayed, there is some light. Clermont’s midfield could become the best in Europe and they are all French! If Guy Noves can find a back row and a line out then there could be some real hope for Europe’s biggest underachievers. This was the year to play England in Paris, but unluckily for them it’s at Twickenham!
Oh, and don’t forget the European Champions and Challenge Cup Finals in Edinburgh on May 12 and 13.Not to be missed !!
No doubt you have some other highlights in mind ?!! Meantime, thanks for reading in 2016 and Merry Christmas All.