By Owain Jones
The comeback kid award: Quade Cooper
IN THE summer, Quade Cooper, the enigmatic, tormented Wallaby five-eighth had a very public falling-out with Robbie Deans, the Wallaby coach. After labelling the camp, ‘toxic’, he, unsurprisingly, found himself out in the cold and omitted from the squad to face the Lions. Fast-forward five months and ‘Super’ Cooper is back in the groove with a coach who believes in him. Ewen McKenzie, his coach at the Reds, has backed his man and his performances have seen the plaudits raining down. His side-stepping, slick-passing, showboating masterclass against Wales was nothing short of sensational and rugby will hope he can sprinkle some of his unique stardust on RWC 2015
Award for services to charity: Dylan Hartley
Like Cooper, Hartley is another individual who has come back with this resolve redoubled following a summer full of angst and soul-searching. Infamously red-carded in the Aviva Premiership final for a potty-mouthed outburst in full earshot of the referee, Hartley was suspended the Lions tour and has since candidly admitted to considering his playing future. Fortunately for England, he took off on his travels and came back stronger for the experience. His performances through November, most notably against New Zealand, were inspirational and, for now, he has wrestled the No 2 shirt back off Tom Youngs. Cementing his, bad-boy turned good, rehabilitation act, he was also the top fundraiser for the Movember charity initiative. Chapeau Mr Hartley, it’s good to have you back.
Best impersonation of an exocet missile award (with a blond wig): Richard Hibbard
Yes, you’ve guessed it’s the blond bombshell from Port Talbot who has continued his thunder-clap tackling from the summer and thrown himself about with barely concealed zeal at anything in an opposition shirt. A bombastic force of nature throughout the Series, he saved his best for last with a hit of such ferocity on Wallaby No 8 Ben Mowen that you’d swear players around him winced. There’s simply no need to ask Hibbard if he munched his three Shredded Wheat on matchday morning, he happily consumes six. Frightening.
Award for ruining Irish publicans takings: New Zealand
Ireland were seconds away from setting off the biggest shindig in their rugby history when Ryan Crotty was released by Dane Coles to scamper over in the corner for the All Blacks. A quick scan around and you’d have seen a mass of green bodies crestfallen on the turf. What you won’t have seen is thousands of publicans around the city face-palming instantaneously at the loss of earnings. Ireland had played the rugby of their lives, galloping to a 19-0 lead, but what was left at the death, in a crowd of 50,000, was an eerie silence. Rugby, bloody hell!
Innovative use of marketing award: The All Blacks
The pubs and clubs of Earls Court, let alone Christchurch and Auckland, were bouncing when the All Blacks performed their Houdini act against Ireland in the late, late show, but while their fans raised a toast to McCaw, Read and co. those canny marketers were up to something, well, rather clever. The following day, if you wanted to find out about their peerless achievement, you’d soon see their unique url wwwwwwwwwwwwww.allblacks.com. Impudent, with a flicker of arrogance, but who can blame them? They’re the world’s best. Period.
Award for services to dumbells: Eben Etzebeth
Etzebeth looks like he’s been hewn out of high veld granite. Patently someone who took lifting barbells in his bedroom as a teenager to a new level, at 6ft 8in, and a few pounds shy of 20st, Etzebeth crashes and bashes round the pitch like someone has stolen his favourite toy. If he isn’t scragging an opponent by the scruff of the neck or picking the ball out 10ft up in the skies, he’s tossing the smaller boys around like rag dolls. Now on an enforced injury lay-off, after picking up an injury against France, no gym will be out of bounds and he’s sure to come back even bigger. Big Bakkies B will surely approve.
Most inventive use of positive spin award: Scott Johnson
The wily old larrakin was at his verbose best after Scotland had come up short against his Australian compatriots by jaunting into the press room and helpfully proffering that the, ‘Murrayfield light show was pretty impressive’ to a set of steely, hardened journalists. They laughed, politely, but the general consensus was that they’d have preferred to have seen fireworks from Scotland’s nervous backline. Must try harder.
Award for improbably making referees likeable: Nigel Owens
He may not have Steve Walsh’s debonair good looks (in fact, who has?), or boast Alain Rolland’s implacable nose for controversy but Owens is carving out a niche as the game’s favourite referee. Roundly applauded for letting the game flow in the epic Test between New Zealand and South Africa at the end of The Rugby Championship. Owens yet again showed his control, common-sense and innate feeling for the game as he expertly oversaw the Autumn’s standout game, between Ireland and the All Blacks. Stop it, Nigel, you’re giving referees a good name…
Award for the best disguise (in not conforming to national stereotype): France
Les Bleus are feeling, well, bleu. They have won only two Tests in the calendar year, and these were against Scotland and Tonga. They were insipid and unimaginative against South Africa, ponderous until far too late against New Zealand and are still to find an indentifiable pattern of play after two years under Philippe Saint-Andre. The brand of rugby they are playing is no longer, well, French. There’s a lack of derring-do, guile and cunning. Hell, it’s all so predictable, which is a damning indictment when you have the likes of Wesley Fofana and the upcoming Jonathan Pelissie and Gael Fickou at your disposal. Come on Philippe, Vive la France!