1 New Zealand teams of the year: Hawkes Bay/Southland
Like all good magpies, Hawkes Bay live handsomely off the scraps. Peter Russell's muscular side play a rollicking game and it was such a pity, for the neutrals, to see them fail in the semi-final against the Boa Constrictor Cantabs. What also stands out is the wonderful atmosphere that emanates from the stadium in Napier. Ditto for Southland, the other underdog semi-finalists, who also lifted the Ranfurly Shield - which gets you 10 minutes of fame these days. Maybe one of these glorious battlers can win the national title in the not-too-distant future, although the system is still stacked against them.2 Howler: Hawkes Bay's no try
What a memory - that storming, angled run and spectacular dive by the Magpies' prop Sona Taumalolo that should have earned his team a draw in Napier against eventual champions Canterbury. A lack of video referrals and an errant touch judge call resulted in a contender for the try of the year being ruled out. Spectacular solo tries are hardly run of the mill these days, making this all the more disappointing. The decision probably affected the shape of the playoffs, which isn't good enough when it comes to the national championship of the national sport.3 New Zealand player of the year: Richie McCaw
There weren't a lot of contenders and you just can't go past McCaw. The All Blacks would be a sorry lot without him, not the least because they can't unearth another genuine No 7 close to test calibre. McCaw has it all as a loosie and if another open side were discovered, he'd make an excellent No 8 in his twilight years. The fact is, the likes of McCaw is not going to pass this way again, perhaps ever. His retirement will be the acid test for New Zealand rugby, but there's plenty else to concern ourselves with so we won't worry about Richie's farewell until it happens.4 Top tackler: Jimmy Cowan
Jimmy Cowan is no genius going forward, but he's among the best scramblers and cover-tacklers in the game. His lowering of lumbering lock Nathan Sharpe near the goal line just before halftime in the August test in Sydney prevented the Wallabies from taking the sort of lead they could hang on to. As it turned out, Dan Carter produced New Zealand's goal kick of the year late in the match to secure a 19-18 win that has knocked the stuffing out of Robbie Deans' Wallabies.5 Dilly-dalliers of the year: The NZRU
Perhaps, maybe, then again, maybe not. Yes, no, yes, no - it might be them, or it might be someone else. Let's have a think about it. And another think. I know - let's commission a study about it. No, maybe not. Silence. Silence. Silence. Rumour - the NZRU might be the dilly-dalliers of the year. And finally, the decision - yes, it's the NZRU for their yes-no-maybe shenanigans in deciding a format for the national championship. This has been going on for years and we're still none the wiser. It's soooooo complicated running a rugby competition. So there you have it - the award goes to the NZRU, I think. Hang on, can I have another think about this?6 Best test: This weekend's (hopefully)
It's been well short of a vintage year so far, with few exceptions. But the penny is starting to drop that France represents as good a rivalry as we've ever had in rugby. Australia's woes have taken a bit of an edge off the transtasman stoush, and South Africa is flexing its muscles to the point that we know the All Blacks are going to lose there on a regular basis.
France, though? The average rugby punter still believes New Zealand should win every time, despite all the evidence to the contrary. And the French are capable of playing such an organic and interesting game. Drama, revenge, controversy, the World Cup history ... France v the All Blacks has it all. As for the best international action, the Springboks-Lions series was hard to beat.7 International player of the year: Heinrich Brussouw
Brussouw makes life tough for himself, playing for the South African Cheetahs. The Springboks have taken a bit of convincing, despite his Super 14 form, and he only got a real chance because of an injury to big Schalk Burger this year. But the little open side has sorted out the major missing link in the Springboks, as he contests the ball on the ground. South Africa would have a few other contenders for Player of the Year, led by Victor Matfield whose lineout expertise rules the international roost. And their long-range goal kicking artillery is positively frightening.8 Find of the year: Owen Franks
The All Blacks have gone on more mysterious searches than Indiana Jones and they've finally unearthed a treasure. Franks is the clean-cut successor to hairy Carl Hayman on the tighthead side. He's a sharp, no-nonsense scrummager and a terrific support act around the rucks and mauls. The best thing is that he's still a pup - he only made his Crusaders debut this year. If Hayman does return for the World Cup it will give the All Blacks a fantastic tighthead unit. Full marks to the selectors here, because the pundits hadn't spotted Franks' early potential. He also represents another giant tick for the Crusaders, who continue to keep the All Black pack ticking over.9 Dud of the year: Matt Giteau
Whoever in the IRB nominated zippy Aussie Giteau as player of the year must have been mainlining G&Ts during the matches. If you want to find a real superstar test No 10, then poke the eyeballs towards this side of the ditch. Giteau just hasn't stamped his mark on this Aussie team, he faced constant suggestions that Berrick Barnes would take the prized first five-eighths jersey and endured being overlooked for the captaincy and vice-captaincy. It all turned to horror last week when his boot failed miserably as Scotland shocked the Ockers. As for the Missed Goal Kick of the Year, take your pick from a gallery of Giteau efforts at Murrayfield.10 Comeback king: Guess who... Dan Carter
Has hardly missed a beat since swanning off to France then being sidelined through injury. Not exactly a total surprise, although when a damaged Achilles is involved you have to wonder. In the McCaw category in terms of his effect on the All Blacks, and there isn't a decent replacement for Carter either. Still works the percentages, keeping his team out of trouble, on the front foot, and picking the moments to strike. As close as it gets to first five-eighths perfection in the modern, claustrophobic era, although it would be nice to see him run a little more.http://www.nzherald.co.nz/domestic-rugby/news/article.cfm?c_id=521&objectid=10611893
Was in the NZ Herald on the 27th of November. They would have been pleased as the best test this year for an All Black perspective would definitely have been the recent win over the French.
Good to see Hawkes Bay at 1 and 2!