After another exhausting year of non-stop rugby action the Rugby Rugby team are proud to announce our awards for the best of the best in 2011.
Take a short trip down memory lane and re-live what was the best part of 2011, in what was a whirlwind of rugby from start to finish.
Only the best will do as we take our hats off to those who stood out as head and shoulders above the rest this year.
Our genuine World Cup honours and distinctions:
Team of the Year - The All Blacks:
While many sides had their moments and went through a range of emotions, the All Blacks were consistently better than anyone else. Two losses to the Springboks and the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations were the only glitches in an otherwise impeccable year for New Zealand. In the World Cup they vanquished everyone without any difficulty, barring France in the final, and were unbeaten, unyielding and simply awesome.
Coach of the Year - Ewen McKenzie:
The wily Aussie was quietly confident throughout the Super Rugby season, and while his nickname is 'Link' (derived from Missing Link) he definitely knows a thing or two about evolution by the way he transformed the Reds over the past two years. Bringing in the likes of Radike Samo and Beau Robinson turned out to be masterstrokes, not to mention the form of Quade Cooper under his watchful eye, as he turned his team of talented youngsters into champions. Is there any wonder why some fans are calling for him to be given the Wallabies job?
Player of the Year - Jerome Kaino:
Possibly an unlikely candidate to be the best of the All Blacks if you'd asked punters at the start of the year, but what a stalwart he was! Kaino has made the No.6 jersey his own, beating off some tough competition to join Kieran Read and Richie McCaw in the ABs' back row. His work-rate and tackling were simply phenomenal and he was consistently impressive throughout the year in all competitions. After some heated debate, and a few split votes, he pipped French captain Thierry Dusautoir at the post for the top man in 2011 - thanks to his greater consistency.
Individual Try of the Year - Will Genia:
The Wallaby scrumhalf set the Super Rugby Final alight with his individual 60-metre dash through what is virtually an full All Blacks line-up to clinch the trophy for the Reds against the Crusaders. It is debatable whether or not it was the best try by an individual with so many fantastic five-pointers to choose from, but in terms of significance it has to be the best of 2011.
Team Try of the Year - Tonga:
In the opening match of the World Cup there were some fireworks from the All Blacks as they set down their marker, but the Kingdom of Tonga will take their own fond memory from that match away with them. Replacement prop Alisona Taumololo shocked Dan Carter into dropping the ball and then stole the ball. The Tongans proceeded to hold onto the ball through countless phases for 10 minutes and patiently waited for the defence to crack, and when it did it was a smiling Taumololo who went over for the try.
Rookie of the Year - Sam Warburton:
The young Welsh captain might be remembered for the wrong reasons in 2011 following his red card in the World Cup semifinal against France, but that shouldn't deflate what was a marvellous year for him. Warburton wasn't a regular in the Wales team and only had a few Test caps to his name before the 2011 Six Nations. However, his impressive form and clear leadership qualities meant that the rookie 22-year-old was handed the Wales captaincy for the World Cup, where he starred as both a player and a leader.
Most memorable debut - Jean Marc Doussain:
The talented Toulouse scrumhalf-cum-flyhalf came off the bench to make his Test match debut for France, having flown out during the World Cup as a replacement for the injured David Skrela. It is not uncommon for a 20-year-old to play in a Test match, and a few players have indeed made their debuts at World Cups, but to make it in the RWC Final with eight minutes left on the clock and only one point in the game? Only the French...
Comeback of the Year - Stephen Donald:
The Kiwi flyhalf was about as far from being New Zealand's favourite as one could be, and his final All Blacks chance had been blown when he was blamed for the defeat to Australia in Hong Hong at the end of 2010. A mediocre Super Rugby season with the Chiefs didn't help his cause, putting the 28-year-old behind Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden in the pecking order. Donald seemed to have hit a crossroads in his career - as he was very nearly denied a work permit to join English club Bath - and he was busy fishing when the call to join the All Blacks came through following a string of injuries. Suddenly the previously unwanted Donald found himself in the World Cup Final, wearing a jersey that didn't fit and with a long-range penalty which kept his team ahead after France's try just two minutes later... He nailed the kick and can be remembered as an unlikely All Black hero who helped win the Webb Ellis Cup!
Match of the Year - RWC Final:
There were genuine fears that the finale to the World Cup could have been one of the worst matches of the entire tournament in what looked like a horrible mismatch. This was down to France's appearance in the final, having fumbled their way through the tournament and reached the final almost by mistake with a disorganised rabble posing as a team. In the final itself this couldn't have been further from the truth, as the French were a worthy adversary for New Zealand and looked determined to win back their pride by toppling the mighty All Blacks. The final had it all - drama, breathtaking try-saving tackles, intense emotions and a one-point margin separating the two sides at the end of an exhausting 80 minutes for the biggest prize in rugby.
Try-saving Tackle(s) of the Year - Richie McCaw and James O'Connor:
Can you believe it, there were two tackles so good that we felt it would be criminal to call one better than the other? While it might not have aided Australia with the result against Ireland in the World Cup, wing James O'Connor was able to save further blushes when he made a mad dash of some 80 metres to drag down Irish wing Tommy Bowe, who had broken clean through the defence with an intercept for what looked to be a certain try. The second tackle earns extra praise for its significance, as All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw valiantly saved the World Cup by hurling himself through the air to bring down France's Alexis Palisson. The French wing had the ball on the outside and was round his marker Cory Jane, so had it not been for McCaw's heroics he could well have snatched yet another World Cup from New Zealand's grasp.
The coaching nursery - New Zealand:
With three head coaches guiding sides to the World Cup semifinals (Graham Henry - NZ, Robbie Deans - Aus, Warren Gatland - Wales) and another three doing the same in the Currie Cup Final (John Plumtree - Sharks and John Mitchell and Carlos Spencer at the Lions), it's hard to argue the Kiwis' claim to having the best pool of coaches in the world. Well done to Graham Henry for finally winning that elusive World Cup trophy in charge of the All Blacks, whilst his predecessor in NZ, John Mitchell, lifted the Currie Cup trophy with the Lions a few weeks later. New Zealand are sharing the love and their intellectual property must be worth a fortune in rugby circles around the globe.
Thanks for coming...
Several legends of the game called it a day on their international careers this year and we salute a few of the stars we know won't be adding to their impressive Test cap tallies - John Smit, Victor Matfield, Brad Thorn, Mils Muliaina, Jonny Wilkinson, Shane Williams, Lewis Moody, Mario Ledesma andMartin Scelzo.
During this World Cup there were four men who passed particularly noteworthy milestones. Nathan Sharpe become the fifth Australia to pass 100 Test caps, while Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina became the first two All Blacks to reach their ton. New Zealand coach Graham Henry also passed the 100-mark of Test matches since taking over the All Blacks mantle; a landmark he later celebrated with a World Cup win!
By Timmy Hancox
* What do you think of our selections? Watch this space for our wacky awards...
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