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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.

Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8vs HUR 22 Report Stats
BLU 18vs CHF 23 Report Stats
Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
SHA 29vs CHT 35 Report Stats
BUL 17vs STO 29 Report Stats
WAR 13vs FOR 25 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19vs BRU 17 Report Stats
REB 28vs WAR 38 Report Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
BUL 13vs HUR 17 Report Stats
HIG 20vs CRU 26 Report Stats
RED 18vs FOR 6 Report Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27vs BLU 16 Report Stats
SHA 29vs LIO 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20vs RED 13 Report Stats
FOR 13vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25vs BLU 24 Report Stats
CHF 40vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15vs BRU 20 Report Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43vs SHA 35 Report Stats
LIO 19vs STO 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 17vs HIG 20 Report Stats
BRU 27vs FOR 15 Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU 10vs LIO 13 Report Stats
RED 5vs WAR 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 20vs BUL 39 Report Stats
STO 29vs SHA 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 30vs BLU 23 Report Stats
FOR 17vs REB 21 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 34vs LIO 6 Report Stats
HIG 26vs WAR 19 Report Stats
RED 0vs BRU 29 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO 19vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10vs SHA 27 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16vs LIO 20 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 57vs CHT 14 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 25vs FOR 24 Report Stats
SHA 12vs CHF 11 Report Stats
WAR 28vs BRU 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 36vs REB 12 Report Stats
RED 17vs LIO 18 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 37vs CHT 27 Report Stats
HIG 39vs STO 21 Report Stats
WAR 23vs BLU 11 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
SHA 15vs FOR 9 Report Stats
BUL 31vs CRU 19 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR 25vs STO 20 Report Stats
REB 23vs RED 15 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF 23vs BLU 16 Report Stats
BRU 20vs CHT 3 Report Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA 10vs CRU 52 Report Stats
LIO 22vs BUL 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU 16vs BRU 14 Report Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 20vs HIG 25 Report Stats
WAR 18vs STO 32 Report Stats
FOR 15vs CHT 24 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 23vs SHA 21 Report Stats
BUL 43vs RED 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 9vs CHF 26 Report Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR 24vs WAR 29 Report Stats
HIG 30vs BLU 24 Report Stats
BRU 8vs REB 13 Report Stats
FOR 6vs STO 13 Report Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA 10vs BUL 17 Report Stats
CHT 17vs RED 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 35vs FOR 27 Report Stats
BRU 31vs HIG 18 Report Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 29vs BLU 15 Report Stats
WAR 18vs REB 16 Report Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 34vs CHT 29 Report Stats
STO 15vs BUL 13 Report Stats
RED 19vs HUR 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG 48vs SHA 15 Report Stats
BRU 10vs WAR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 41vs FOR 24 Report Stats
HUR 29vs CRU 23 Report Stats
REB 16vs CHF 15 Report Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 25vs STO 17 Report Stats
BUL 35vs LIO 33 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 58vs RED 17 Report Stats
REB 42vs BLU 22 Report Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 32vs SHA 24 Report Stats
FOR 18vs WAR 11 Report Stats
LIO 28vs HIG 23 Report Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
STO 25vs BRU 24 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 23vs BUL 18 Report Stats
RED 46vs REB 29 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 22vs CHF 18 Report Stats
WAR 33vs SHA 18 Report Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO 20vs BRU 30 Stats
CHT 24vs HIG 45 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
CHF 34vs BUL 20 Report Stats
RED 14vs SHA 21 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 5vs HUR 29 Report Stats
WAR 32vs CRU 22 Report Stats
FOR 3vs HIG 23 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 17vs LIO 40 Report Stats
STO 31vs REB 15 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 35vs HUR 18 Report Stats
BRU 22vs BUL 16 Report Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA 25vs REB 21 Report Stats
HIG 36vs CHF 9 Report Stats
FOR 10vs RED 32 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
STO 42vs CHT 12 Report Stats
LIO 27vs WAR 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR 56vs HIG 20 Report Stats
FOR 20vs BRU 33 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
REB 21vs BUL 20 Report Stats
BLU 11vs CRU 34 Report Stats
RED 3vs CHF 24 Report Stats
CHT 33vs WAR 58 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
STO 19vs LIO 19 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU 7vs HIG 44 Report Stats
REB 11vs FOR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
BRU 24vs CRU 37 Report Stats
CHF 13vs HUR 21 Report Stats
WAR 31vs RED 5 Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL 29vs CHT 42 Report Stats
SHA 34vs STO 12 Stats
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby Qualifying Finals
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
HIG 24vs CHF 14 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
STO 19vs BRU 39 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby Semi Finals
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR 29vs BRU 9 Stats
WAR 17vs HIG 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby Grand Final
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
HUR 14vs HIG 21 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Hurricanes 16 14 2 0 170 66
Waratahs 16 11 5 0 96 52
Stormers 16 10 5 1 50 45
Highlanders 16 11 5 0 117 53
Brumbies 16 9 7 0 108 47
Lions 16 9 6 1 -22 42
Chiefs 16 10 6 0 73 48
Bulls 16 7 9 0 9 38
View all
 

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