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The highlights and lowlights of what was an annus horribilis for rugby ... again

Date

Georgina Robinson takes a look back at the highlights and lowlights of what's been an annus horribilis for rugby.

Tackle time ... Quade Cooper.

Tackle time ... Quade Cooper. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Highlight: Brumbies

While Australian rugby's traditional stronghold crumbled further on its foundations in Sydney's east, an ancient power rumbled back to life three hours' west. The Brumbies' Super Rugby resurrection under Jake White and Laurie Fisher was the good news story of the year. For a while it looked as if the season would disappoint. Last year's stars the Reds battled injury and a championship hangover while the Waratahs's first loss to Queensland, after the bell at ANZ Stadium, foretold the woe to come. But in Canberra a simple plan began to bear fruit: take talented but little-known players, add them to an experienced base, put them all through the most comprehensive and uninterrupted pre-season possible, and the games - and the critics - are yours for the taking. In the end it was that naive malleability that caused their season to end prematurely. They had one eye on the finals when they met New Zealand wooden spooners the Blues in the final round of the regular season at Canberra Stadium. The fairytale ended with a 14-point loss. But there is always next year, and the formula is a winning one.

 

Bath time ... Moore and Sharpe celebrate.

Bath time ... Moore and Sharpe celebrate.

Lowlight: Cooper/Waratahs

There was never a more galling moment in rugby this year than the few minutes it took the former poster boy for the new-generation razzle-dazzle Wallabies to take a torch to his team on live television three months ago. That Quade Cooper's on-air dummy spit was the product of a frustrating return from injury, sincere gripes about his role as Wallabies playmaker and simple nerves are important footnotes. But if there are two things rugby fans and players alike cannot abide, it is a cavalier attitude to the gold jersey and the faintest whiff of hubris. The two in tandem make a prelude to a fall. A $40,000 fall in Cooper's case, and a long crawl back into the hearts of all but the most diehard Reds fans. The year closes with some hope on the horizon in the form of a two-year ARU deal locked away - the $750,000-a-year contract should help ease the pain of the $40,000 fine - and a solid pre-season available to a player who is yet to scale the heights of which he is capable.

 

The superstar: Nathan Sharpe

There has been much written about the Wallabies' veteran second-rower this year but he deserves a final mention for being the unconventional superstar. In a year when many of the traditional crowd-pleasers - James O'Connor, Digby Ioane and Cooper - went missing due to injury, rugby found its way back to core values. This year the players left standing were the real superstars. The solid backs such as Berrick Barnes, the versatile performers such as Adam Ashley-Cooper, the front-rowers such as Benn Robinson, Ben Alexander and the loose forwards who were asked to give more than ever before. The Dave Dennises, the Wycliff Palus. And the giant among them, Nathan Sharpe, who was there every time his coach asked him to play on.

 

The issue: Robbie Deans

It was never going to be an easy year for Deans. The ARU rankled sections of the rugby-loving public with a two-year extension to the five-time Super Rugby title-winning coach's contract before a Rugby World Cup ball had been kicked last year. The Wallabies's performance there - notably their loss to Ireland and Quade Cooper's struggles in the No.10 jersey - did little to placate the naysayers. Before the season started this year, Deans lost his captain James Horwill and a succession of potential replacements for an injured Cooper. What followed was a season of tumult. The loss of two more captains - David Pocock and Will Genia - and a handful of key players came amid a season that made the French team look like the most settled in world rugby. With each disappointment - Scotland, the Bledisloe, France, slipping to third in the world - came a clamour for the coach's head. But just when momentum seemed to swing against Deans, the Wallabies pulled a face-saving win out of the hat. It was the story of their year, and any logical conclusions about his or the team's performance was clouded by the injuries issue. Who could say for sure another coach could have done as well, let alone better, under the same circumstances? Deans's tight demeanour and refusal to court public approval continued to perplex fans who seem willing to settle for hand-on-heart parochialism if they can't have the Bledisloe.

 

Honourable mention: The Waratahs

Lost a coach, a manager, 12 games and another few hundred fans. Michael Cheika, Michael Hooper and Israel Folau are good additions to the team. They have some work to do.

 

What's next?: Lions

There isn't time to properly digest Australian rugby's annus horribilis - the British and Irish Lions are coming. The once-in-12-years tour means all eyes will be on Super Rugby from the first round. Deans will be watching for returning stars - Pocock, Horwill, O'Connor, Cooper, Horne, McCabe - and smokies, while Lions coach Warren Gatland surveys the Six Nations competition in the northern hemisphere to pick his talent. The tour is a big deal for the provinces too, who will each host midweek games. Their challenge? To light a fire under comparatively laidback Australian fans and get Suncorp, ANZ and Etihad glittering in gold across the three Test matches. The lessons of 11 years ago, when Lions supporters turned the Gabba red and helped inspire the touring team to a 29-13 victory over the Wallabies in the first Test, must be put to the right use next year.

 

The quote

''I feel that that environment is destroying me as a person and as a player, so that I can't do the best that I can do to represent my country and my family and my friends, to the best of my ability.'' - Quade Cooper on life in the gold jersey.Fox Sports Rugby Club, September 27.

 

The Tweet

A photo of Stephen Moore and Nathan Sharpe, in an ice bath in the bowels of Twickenham Stadium, drinking beer from the Cook Cup after the Wallabies' 20-14 win over England on the spring tour. Moore, the publisher of the photo, deleted it in the days following for fear of it being used in the wrong context.

Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 0vs FJI 0 05:00Twic
TGA 0vs GEO 0 21:00Kholm
IRE 0vs CAN 0 23:30MilS
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs JPN 0 01:45Brig
FRA 0vs ITA 0 05:00Twic
SAM 0vs USA 0 21:00Brig
WAL 0vs URU 0 23:30MilS
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs ARG 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 0vs JPN 0 23:30Kholm
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs ROM 0 05:00Olym
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs NAM 0 05:00Olym
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 0vs GEO 0 01:45Kholm
ITA 0vs CAN 0 23:30Ella
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SAM 0 01:45Villa
ENG 0vs WAL 0 05:00Twic
AUS 0vs URU 0 21:00Villa
SCO 0vs USA 0 23:30Ella
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 0vs ROM 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 0vs NAM 0 01:45Sand
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs CAN 0 05:00stadium:mk
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs GEO 0 05:00MilS
SAM 0vs JPN 0 23:30stadium:mk
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SCO 0 01:45St James' Park
ENG 0vs AUS 0 06:00Twic
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 0vs TGA 0 00:30KPS
IRE 0vs ITA 0 02:45Olym
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 0vs ROM 0 02:45KPS
FJI 0vs URU 0 06:00stadium:mk
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 0vs USA 0 02:45Olym
NAM 0vs GEO 0 06:00Sand
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 0vs TGA 0 06:00St James' Park
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 0vs SCO 0 00:30St James' Park
AUS 0vs WAL 0 02:45Twic
ENG 0vs URU 0 06:00Manch
ARG 0vs NAM 0 22:00KPS
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 0vs ROM 0 00:30Sand
FRA 0vs IRE 0 02:45MilS
USA 0vs JPN 0 06:00Kholm
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinB 0vs RUpA 0 02:00Twic
WinC 0vs RUpD 0 06:00MilS
WinD 0vs RUpC 0 23:00MilS
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinA 0vs RUpB 0 02:00Twic
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF1 0vs WQF2 0 02:00Twic
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF3 0vs WQF4 0 03:00Twic
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
LSF1 0vs LSF2 0 07:00Olym
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
WSF1 0vs WSF2 0 03:00Twic
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
France 0 0 0 0 0 0
New Zealand 0 0 0 0 0 0
Canada 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tonga 0 0 0 0 0 0
Japan 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Romania 0 0 0 0 0 0
Argentina 0 0 0 0 0 0
England 0 0 0 0 0 0
Georgia 0 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 0 0 0 0 0 0
USA 0 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Fiji 0 0 0 0 0 0
Samoa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Namibia 0 0 0 0 0 0
South Africa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
 

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