Another 12 months have passed and as the year slowly lists over onto its side, like Leo Cullen entering a ruck, we take this opportunity to look back at all the earth shattering events that the rugby world has offered up since we were last in a similar position in relation to the Sun as we are now. The unexpected bounty brought us a Six Nations, a Heinenken cup and a thrilling win in the Welsh Premiership for the true champions Llanelli RFC (who at the end of the league stage had amassed a record 28 point margin over all their other rivals*).
2011 has been a unique year (apart from one in every other four years since 1984) in that it has brought another Rugby World Cup. The tournament that challenges the best rugby players in the world (and Scotland) and that showcases all the Welsh regions shorn of their internationals (as they play a Connaught side that may have lost one of its TV analysts), started with a bang as the might of the Scarlets’ development region, Tonga took on the All Zealanders*.
The undoubted star of the tournament was Quade Cooper, who headed the stats leagues for roughly half of the key measures. He single-handedly showed that it wasn’t just the All Blacks who have a monopoly of funnily named players. Fortunately for Australia they found that having a nine as the best of their hand is slightly more useful in rugby than it is in Texas Hold ‘Em. They hung around the tournament until the bitter end hoping to pick up some reward, just like a fat bird at a party. This set them aside from Wales who stayed the course for exactly the same length of time, provided amble entertainment and talking points but ultimately ended up going home empty handed. Just like a fat bloke at a party. But what were the Pringles, Campari and other left-overs from this party, to push beyond breaking point this metaphor. Or simile*.
Allain “If I’m wrong, then my old man’s a Frenchman” Rolland provided a beacon of lite in the latter stages of the Games. Judging by the headlines in the Western Mail (“SOD OFF BACK TO BLARNEY (RO)LAND!!!”), the South Wales Evening Post (“Allain Quarterbrain!”) and the Wales of Sunday (“Roland’s Mother Once Visited Prestatyn”), reaction to the sending of off Sam Warburton was mixed. The focus to date has been on what was wrong with the tackle. Was Vincent ‘so-called’ Clerc lifted too far off the ground? Is the top of your head classed as ‘upper body’? And, why couldn’t I have a cool name like ‘Vincent’? What we should do is talk about the good aspects of the tackle. Just in the same way the police don’t pull you over for shifting down nicely into third, Allain was a consummate negative Nigel and failed to ac-sen-tuate the positive. What were the good aspects, I hear you ask? (How can I hear you, exactly? Aren’t I just typing this into a computer? Are you all in my head?) For a start, it wasn’t a high tackle. Warburton was at no point offside (which must have confused an Irish ref). And lest we forget, he didn’t trip or repeatedly kick in the balls, the Toulon Tyro*.
We also learnt the true meaning of ‘strength in depth’ as New Zealand progressed to their one and only Webb Ellis Trophy win*. The All Blacks used up more number tens than an entire series of Strictly. They finally opted for Stephen McDonald who had just spent the previous 2 months at his uncle’s company’s nugget testing facility. At one stage they were forced to put the bloke who acted as Mr Sullivan in the 1980s series, The Sullivans, on the bench. Fans were shocked to find that this show wasn’t filmed in black and white, as they remember, but in fact was set in 1950s New Zealand, which pretty much has the same effect. [For those interested in obtaining the series on video cassette or super-8, please send a stamped addressed envelope to New Zealand Film Studios, 1 New Zealand Road, New Zealand. NZ1 001]*
What have we learnt this year? Well, we’ve learnt that Wales aren’t quite as good as New Zealand at rugby union. We’ve learnt that Northampton Saints not only have a unique grasp of irony, but also have the keys to the factory whose production facilities provide a record number of players that look like the boy in your school who smelt of milk. Finally we’ve learnt that it will surely not be long before a Conference player finally graces the hallowed turf of Twickenham after the Barbarians picked the Widnes Rugby League side player, Johnny Northerner to turn out for them on the wing against South Africa*.
This year, there’s been much debate about what’s the key position on the field in rugby union. After the World Cup many have stated that it’s the No.7 (the rugby players, not the make-up) that is key. This is however wrong, you stupid arseholes! The key position, as Munster, Leinster and the whole of the All Blacks pack with testify, is 2 metres offside at every, single ruck holding back defending players and generally getting in the way. Like a protagonist in US TV series Alphas (which in NO way should be confused with Heroes), lingerers hang around unseen tugging on sleeves like a cigarette desiring 11 year old outside an offy. How do the referees not see them? Are they complete incompetents? Were they all given this chance to be at the top of our sport in a long deleted episode of Jim’ll Fix it? Are they killer cyborgs sent from the future to annoy rugby fans? Or are they all from North Island? This correspondent doesn’t have an easy answer but as sure as Rabo-Direct 12 will compete with Amlin and LV for most effortlessly forgettable brand name of 2012, they’ll be back next year to cluster-fluke their way into a continued career. Hell, if they get any worse they may end up being a representative of FIFA. Or those people that look after cricket; the IOC*.
* I haven’t done ANY research.