2015 is almost over, and what a year it was. To give all our readers an early Christmas present, we at Pundit Arena have decided to look back at a barnstorming 12 months of rugby, and pick out the highlights.
Some of our main rugby writers; Jack O’Toole, Paul Peerdeman, Ozer McMahon, Brian Barry, Barry Dempsey and Jonathan Fitzpatrick pooled their heads together to review 2015, and naturally, they couldn’t agree on a thing!
Here is what they came up with.
Moment of the Year
(JOT): Unquestionably Japan defeating South Africa in the pool stages of this year’s World Cup. The gap between the Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations is narrowing and Karne Hesketh’s last gasp try was the moment of the tournament and of the year.
(PP): Dan Carter’s drop goal that finally made the difference in the World Cup Final was my moment of the year. A moment of class to put the game beyond an Australian side that had been surprisingly brilliant all year.
(OMcM): Hard to look past Japan’s win over South Africa at the World Cup, but the scenes at Jonah Lomu’s funeral when players, past and present, sent the game’s first global superstar off with one final magical haka.
(BB): The final day of the Six Nations. All of it. From Wales running riot in Rome, to Ireland’s mauling of Scotland in Murrayfield, it looked like we had seen it all that day. Then things kicked off in Twickenham. Le Crunch served up just the 90 points, and the Irish won the championship by a points difference of six. What a day.
(BD): Moment of the year: Dan Carters dropgoal in the world cup final. Carter showed that pressure is only for tyres as he calmly switched onto his left and slotted the ball through the posts with the world watching.
(JF): New Zealand defeating Australia in the Rugby World Cup Final. Becoming the first side to lift the Rugby World Cup on three occasions is a fair reflection of the All Blacks’ dominance of the sport. A fairy tale ending for Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Co.
The player that impressed you most this year?
(JOT): Ardie Savea. One of the breakout stars in Super Rugby and a genuine contender to succeed Richie McCaw in the All Blacks Number 7 jersey. Savea was sensational with the Hurricanes and was desperately unlucky not to receive a call up to the All Blacks World Cup squad.
(PP): I want to say Dan Carter again, but perhaps that credit should go to Lima Sopoaga. He was brilliant for the Highlanders and would have merited a place in the All Blacks line up had it not been for Carter.
(OMcM): Nehe Milner-Skudder. He danced his way through defences at will in a debut Super Rugby season, before taking to international rugby like a duck to water. A player I won’t get sick of watching any time soon.
(BB): Matt Giteau. The day Australia allowed their overseas players to play for the national side was the day they became contenders for the World Cup. Giteau was immense all season, for both Toulon and the Wallabies.
(BD): David Pocock. Pocock influenced every game that he played in, whether it was scoring tries or poaching ball, he was simply untouchable.
(JF): Dan Biggar. The Ospreys out-half stepped up a level this year for both country and club. His standout moment will be the man-of-the-match award against England in the Rugby World Cup, where the young fly half held his nerve and came of age.
The team that impressed you the most this year
(JOT): Australia. The Wallabies were defeated in the final by the All Blacks but the fact that they got there defied the odds. Cheika took over the coaching job when the team was in a state of turmoil and guided them to a Rugby Championship and a spot in the final. Remarkable.
(PP): Japan were the most impressive. They did not achieve much, but they played brilliantly. Not just the game against the Springboks was outstanding, their games against the Maori All Blacks and in the Pacific Nations were a joy to watch.
(OMcM): Australia. Given they have only been coached by Michael Cheika for a year, winning the Rugby Championship and making it to the final of the World Cup was an incredible achievement.
(BB): Argentina. Going into the year, few gave them any real chance after an underwhelming 2014. A first ever victory over South Africa was followed by a World Cup semi-final appearance, which heralded major progress.
(BD): The All Blacks. Ireland, the Hurricanes and Glasgow all were up for this title but in the end none of them came close to the World cup champions.
(JF): Argentina. A win away to South Africa in Durban, an excellent opening to New Zealand in the World Cup, a humbling display against Ireland, and a valiant effort against Australia – Daniel Hourcade has done great things with this Argentina team.
Surprise of the Year
(JOT): Vern Cotter’s Scotland. Desperately unlucky not to beat the Wallabies in the quarter-final, Scotland were cruelly dumped out of the World Cup after Joubert awarded the Wallabies with a dubious offside call. Big turnaround for Scotland considering they endured another disastrous Six Nations campaign.
(PP): I am slightly biased, but I have to say my surprise of the year is the Highlanders. I have been an avid fan, used to disappointment. They have played well for a long time, but never won a thing. This time around, they astounded me by playing great and winning as well.
(OMcM): Victor Matfield joining the Northampton Saints. With 128 international caps for South Africa and over 250 club appearances the last thing I expected was a 38 year second row to want to slog through a winter in the English midlands after the World Cup.
(BB): Wasps’ start to the Champions Cup. Wasps were expected to be the whipping boys of Pool 5, but laid down a marker over the first two games, beating Leinster away and Toulon at home. A further win against Bath sees them looking pretty for a spot in the last eight.
(BD): Japan. No questions about this one. Japan and Eddie Jones shocked world rugby when they put South Africa to the samurai sword in Brighton.
(JF): England’s Rugby World Cup exit. One of the pre-tournament favourites, nobody thought they would suffer such a spectacular fall from grace. An implosion against Wales will haunt that squad for the next four years.
Disappointment of the Year
(JOT): A loss I still truly haven’t recovered from. Back to Back Six Nations wins, significant scalps over the Springboks and Wallabies in the November internationals and yet again we find a way to go out in the quarters. Injuries aside, Ireland should’ve beaten Argentina but fell dreadfully short of the mark… again.
(PP): Scotland’s Six Nations. Scotland had a great side, proven later again in the World Cup. But the only thing they won really was the wooden spoon.
(OMcM): JJ Hanrahan leaving Munster. With quality out halves being so vital to a team, the sight of a highly promising, future international strutting his stuff overseas, and Ian Keatley bereft of form and confidence toiling at Munster, makes the heart sink.
(BB): Scotland not closing out a victory against Australia. The Scots were seconds away from causing one of the great World Cup upsets, but a suspect refereeing decision meant that they continue to dwell in the doldrums.
(BD): Ireland in the World Cup. Ireland won the Six Nations, topped their group in the pool stages but still couldn’t get past the quarter stages.
(JF): Ireland’s first 20 minutes against Argentina in the World Cup Quarter Final. All aspirations of Irish success became unravelled at the hands of an incredibly determined Argentinian side, and it was another quarter final exit for the Six Nations Champions.
Performance of the Year (Team)
(JOT): All Blacks. First team to successfully defend their World Cup crown and they did it in some style too. Looked average throughout the Pools but were stunning in the knockout stages and their performance against France in the quarters was about as dominant as we’ve seen in International Rugby.
(PP): The All Blacks’ World Cup win. Despite their disappointing Rugby Championship campaign, they were absolutely majestic throughout, particularly in the knockout stages.
(OMcM): New Zealand’s demolition of France in the World Cup quarter final. The French had well and truly checked out for a finish, but the ruthless excellence of the All Blacks that night was phenomenal.
(BB): New Zealand vs Australia in the Bledisloe Cup decider last August. After a shock defeat in the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks were keen to set the record straight, and did just that with a 41-13 victory over their great rivals.
(BD): Highlanders. The Super Rugby final was a home game for the star studded Hurricanes and they were simply blown away in Wellington by a hard working Highlanders team.
(JF): Impossible not to say Japan. A historic upset against South Africa shattered any pre-conceived notions of the Tier 2 side. The pace and precision at which Japan played became trademark of their exhilarating World Cup campaign.
Performance of the Year (Player)
(JOT): David Pocock vs England.. Desperately unlucky not to win the World Player of the Year, Pocock was in my eyes the player of the World Cup and a massive reason as to why Australia went as far as they did. A menace at the breakdown and a workhorse around the field, he single handedly dismantled England in Pool A.
(PP): The Australian back row all deserve a mention, but I have to hand that to Dan Carter. He was outstanding throughout the whole World Cup, impossible to pick one game.
(OMcM): Bernard Foley against England in Pool A at the World Cup. The out half terrorised the opposition, he crossed for two tries and kicked 7 from 7 on the night the hosts were booted out of their own party.
(BB): David Pocock vs Argentina. Pocock was everywhere in the semi-final, and it was the greatest back-row display this writer has ever seen.
(BD): Mamuka Gorgodze: Everyone’s favourite Georgian was all action against the All Blacks and despite being on the losing side took home the man of the match award.
(JF): Dan Carter vs Australia – Rugby World Cup Final. He missed out on the final in 2011, and many felt his best days were behind him heading into 2015. However the Kiwi delivered on the biggest stage of them all, and his masterful display against the Wallabies bore huge influence on the scoreboard. Cemented his place in rugby history, and added to his already overflowing legacy.
What were your standout moments? We’d love to hear your thoughts, as always, over on our Facebook rugby page.