By Owain Jones
The ‘I want to win it all’ award: Sonny Bill Williams
GOOD OLD Sonny Bill. Not content with winning a Rugby World Cup in Union and appearing in a World Cup final in League, he’s now decided he wants to top that by winning a second Union World Cup and helping New Zealand to win 2016 gold in the Sevens in Rio. If he manages it, you can never see it being surpassed. He’s also a pretty handy heavyweight in New Zealand. Chuck in his status as a rugby heartthrob and us mere mortals have every reason to feel inadequate.
The ‘picture tells a thousand words’ award: Jonathan Davies, Jerry Guscott and Sir Clive Woodward
England came to Cardiff in search of their first Grand Slam in a decade. They left shell-shocked and empty handed, after an inspired Wales ran out 30-3 winners in a pulsating encounter in the Millennium Stadium. No prizes for guessing the happier of the pundits at the final whistle. Step forward, ‘Smiler’ Davies
The ‘I can’t stand the sight of you award’: Keith Wood and Warren Gatland
The rumour mill has long suggested that Keith Wood played a part in Warren Gatland’s departure from Ireland in 2001. When Gatland dropped Brian O’Driscoll for Jonathan Davies for the final Lions Test, a fresh firestorm enveloped the Lions management. The furore was led by Wood, who said Gatland had made a ‘terrible mistake’ in omitting BOD. After a series of bitter snipes post-tour, through the media, you’d wager they’d be more inclined to share a ring rather than a mince pie this Christmas.
The ‘in need of serious relationship counselling’ award: WRU and the Welsh regions
Relations have reached an all-time low in the Principality. The Regions, many say rightly, feel starved of the funds needed to keep their best players. On their part, the Union steadfastly refuses to help financially until the RRW signs a participation agreement, that the Regions state would be ‘suicide’. Central-contracts have been mooted by the WRU, and in the meantime, the stars continue to leave. The real losers in this sorry situation are the fans and the sooner it is sorted out, the better.
The ‘Groundhog day’ award: Australia narrowly beating Wales, again, and again…
4, 2, 1, 2, 8, 6, 3. These are the points margins in favour of the Wallabies in the past two years when playing Wales. Each and every game had its ‘what if’ moment for Wales, but ended agonisingly in defeat. The teams have one last dress rehearsal in November 2014 against Ewen McKenzie’s team before it’s show time. On October 10th, 2015 Wales take on Australia at Twickenham in the Rugby World Cup. The perfect time to break a hoodoo wail a nation of three million!
The ‘Kofi Annan’ award: Ian Ritchie
Gracefully dodging the bullets as the European war drags on has been the erudite, calming influence of Ian Ritchie. Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, trying to pacify the PRL clubs, and tread stormy European waters with the home World Cup fast-approaching, the RFU CEO has gone about his politicking behind closed doors, and despite not having a party invite to Dublin, when every other European union voted to stick with ERC, he has steadfastly refused to give up realizing a European tournament that would be good for the game. He will ‘bust a gut’ to sort it out. Good on him.
The ‘new France’ award: Ireland
With a Gallic toss of the hair and shrug of the shoulders, we are used to seeing Les Bleus turning up one weekend, and going missing the next, but who’s this coming up on the inside in the ‘Inconsistency Stakes’, clad in green. Yes, it’s Ireland. In 2013, they have been at their infuriating best. Majestic against Wales in Cardiff one week, they fluffed their lines against England at the Aviva Stadium the next. They were at it again in the Autumn, rolling over to a bunch of hungover Wallabies one week, and uniting a nation a week later as they oh-so-nearly beat New Zealand for the first time in 121-years. Will the real Ireland please stand up, France want their title back…
The ‘worldwide recruitment’ award: Edinburgh
That wily old operator Alan Solomons has decided not to invest solely in Scottish youth but to cast the net far and wide, to well, the Southern Hemisphere for his prime beef. Wicus Blaauw, WP Nel, Izak van der Westhuizen and Cornell du Preez are most definitely more au fait with biltong than haggis, but a recent upturn in their results, they defeated Gloucester on the road in the Heineken Cup, may suggest the heavy import plan is working
The ‘best use of R&R’ award: Noosa, Queensland
Sir Clive Woodward raged in the Daily Mail that the Lions, poised at 1-1 in the Series, were wrong to be jetting off to the Sunshine Coast of Noosa for a breather and should instead be preparing in Sydney for the defining Test. Undeterred, the Lions took their jet-skis, sunbathed, went to the zoo, and even crammed in a few beers and ice-cream, and lo and behold, they thumped Robbie Deans’ Wallabies 41-16. A sweet victory.
The how ‘lose friends and alienate people’ award: Delon Armitage
Poor old Delon, he doesn’t help himself sometimes. When gliding in from 40 metres for the winning score against Clermont in the Heineken Cup final, he decided to give a little celebratory wave to beaten Clermont defender Brock James, before dotting down. To say it didn’t go down well was an understatement as the fur flew on social media, especially from Brian Moore, as the two engaged in violent threats on Twitter. George North did something similar against the Lions and apologized, sharpish. A wise move.
The ‘muscles aren’t everything’ award: Willie Le Roux
Okay, so Le Roux is hardly in the Ronnie Corbett, or dare we say Shane Williams category, at a positively lofty 6ft 1in, but where Springboks are routinely doppelgangers for competition-standard bodybuilders; see Eben Etzebeth, Le Roux is lithe, and if we’re honest, a little on the scrawny side, but boy can the kid play. Muscle-bound brutes have rendered ‘normal’ sized men endangered species in rugby, and Le Roux’s emergence has been a breath of fresh air.
The ‘bad PR for rugby’ award: The game’s power-brokers
We all know the key protagonists in this sorry Euro affair, and even they, privately, would have to admit the domestic game is in a complete mess. The core values of rugby are working as a team and sportsmanship, but sadly these characteristics have been in short supply in an Autumn of claim, counter-claim, petty squabbles and dreary press statements. Sadly, you would forgive the fair-weather fan for seeking stimulation elsewhere, which is not what the game wants with the Rugby World Cup looming. Sort. It. Out.
The ‘right place at the right time’ award: Tom Court, Shane Williams
In the middle of the Lions tour, the squad were hit by an injury crisis. Outwide, Tommy Bowe had broken a bone in his hand, George North had a suspect hamstring, leaving Alex Cuthbert and Simon Zebo as the only fit wings. Step forward, bonafide Welsh legend Shane Williams, on his way from Japan to fulfil media duties. He stepped in manfully for the Brumbies game. Also involved was Irish loosehead Tom Court. Court happened to be in Brisbane visiting relatives when he had the call to fill the breach against the Rebels after Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins had long since flown home. Timed to perfection, chaps.
The ‘savvy marketing’ award: Saracens
Who knows what they’re drinking in the Sarries marketing department, but whatever it is, it’s potent, creative mix. They have pulled off masterstrokes, not once, but twice in recent months. The first was to offer free entry to any Bath fans if reality TV star, and occasional rugby player Gavin Henson scored points against them and the second was inviting free entry for anyone dressed as Elvis in the game against Sale Sharks. Who said the game couldn’t be fun?
The ‘farewell, you will be sadly missed’ award: Cliff Morgan
With all this frivolity and Christmas tomfoolery, it’s easy to forget the game has lost some very special people in the last year, none more so than Cliff Morgan. Morgan was a Will-o-the-Wisp character on the pitch who inspired Wales and the Lions. When he hung up he boots, he took up the mic and became one of the UK’s best-loved voices. He rode the wave, with a mix of charm and wit for 50 years and will be missed by all this Christmas.