Elbow grease ... the likes of Israel Dagg and Aaron Smith have been influential parts of an All Blacks team that has dominated the Rugby Championship and pretty much everything else this season. Photo: Getty Images
With the last domestic international of the year behind us it would seem only fit to give some thought to the best of the best this year. The categories I have chosen are the following: the team of the year, player of the year, best play of the year, best pass of the year, the heart-crushing moment of the year and the most bizarre moment on the field. I am sure there are many more and it's going to be up for debate, but here are mine.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
Everything NZ. From the Chiefs winning to the All Blacks continuing where they left off from RWC 2011. Thanks again for the Bledisloe and a nice new shiny Rugby Championships trophy. It's like the pied piper, all the trophies are following the men in black. For the Aussies, even though the Reds made the finals there was a secret part of me gunning for the Brumbies in those last weeks of the regular season. Surely a season not to be forgotten for Ben Mowen and his boys, and I am sure they would be looking to go one better next year.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
There have been plenty to choose from. Australia's Will Genia topped the poll in the Aussie conference, South African Player of the Year, Bismarck du Plessis, Aaron Cruden from NZ but the player that I think has had the biggest influence on the game this year has come from NZ. No longer in the super rugby net, Sonny Bill Williams in my mind has had the biggest effect in domestic rugby and the internationals albeit limited by the move to Japan. SBW's ability to distribute the ball before the line, at the line and past the line has been one of the keys to the success of the Chiefs and the All Blacks. He has transformed the role of the inside-centre by sheer intimidation at times.
BEST PLAY OF THE YEAR
The first try in the Sydney Bledisloe. Off a set piece, the All Blacks went left. All the talk was of SBW and the influence he would have with ball in hand, but on this occasion he was a decoy runner. The ball found its way to Israel Dagg with limited space. He was able to manoeuvre his way past Kurtley Beale with sleight of feet to score an amazing try. The precision of the passing and the running lines to baffle the defence was brilliant. Go and watch it again.
PASS OF THE YEAR
It comes down to two plays. Israel Dagg's pass to Cory Jane for the second try in Bledisloe 1 and Beale's sleight of hand for Digby Ioane v Argentina and I can't separate them. The first. The play started with an 8, 9 off the back of the scrum. Throw in some decoy runners and Dan Carter ends up giving an early ball to Dagg. At pace he identified that Ioane was coming at him from an inside line and Beale rushing to try to close the space. This left Jane with enough room to get on the outside of Beale. The pass was seamless. This is why was the pass was so extraordinarily good. Receiving the ball at speed and the ability to transfer the ball in the one movement allowed the space for the man on the outside. The second contender is the Beale pass to Ioane. This was a little different to the first as Beale had time with the ball. The key to the delivery was that Beale took the ball to the line at pace and the Wallabies had players in motion. Ben Tapuai, Berrick Barnes and Ioane all running great angles. The delivery of the pass was left so late the Argentinian defence had to stay put and mark up. The fake pump to Tapuai then the release to a flying Ioane resulted in a training move being executed perfectly in the game. The speed of everything happening at once was why this play worked so well.
HEART-CRUSHING MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Well, this happened in the first week of the competition, in the 80th minute of the Waratahs v Reds match with a solo effort from Reds winger Dom Shipperley to steal the win. So much hype surrounded this game and with 30 seconds to go the Waratahs were crowing. A poor decision by the Tahs was the one sniff the Reds needed to capitalise, albeit a very small sniff. The rest is history. The Reds went on to the finals and the Waratahs, well they didn't.
BIZARRE MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Perhaps reserved for two incidents this season. The prize goes to Dean Mumm and Tendai ''Beast'' Mtawarira. Mumm on a counter-attack for the Waratahs in Sydney fended off the Sharks' Marcell Coetzee. There is nothing like shoving your opponent out of the way, but this was quite extraordinary. It was all legs and arms from Coetzee and the first thing that touched the ground was his face. That's why they do the one-arm bench push in the gym, just in case. It could have been the first yellow card given to an attacking player for a dangerous throw! The Beast doing a full extension lift and hold, then to top it off with an overhead tricep pull down on his team mate Anton Bresler in order to save him from serious injury. He has done this before in a game, to Keegan Daniel. Jumpers, time to change the lifter, I think!
That's all folks. Great to see the Wallabies fight hard for a draw last night. Thanks for the year and the comments. Looking forward to doing it all again in 2013!