For most sports fans, odd numbered years are not usually the most exciting. However, as a rugby fan, these either birth a Lions tour or a World Cup. In 2013 we had the former, a thrilling series in Australia, and on top of that we had a stunning Six Nations showdown in Cardiff, a Rugby Championship of outstanding quality, and an intriguing prolonged set of Autumn Internationals.
Team of the Year
This was not a difficult decision. New Zealand annus mirabilis merits, and surely will, sell many many books and was one of the most remarkable seasons in any sport. It culminated in a remarkable finish at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin as Ryan Crotty’s try and Aaron Cruden’s re-taken conversion completed a run of 14 victories, broke Irish hearts, and proved that this really is a team who know how to win, and win ugly if they have to.
Player of the Year
The IRB judged Kieran Read as their Player of the Year. It seems fitting that a player from one of the most internationally dominant sides of all-time should win the award. However, it does a disservice to Read’s back row colleagues to highlight his performances alone. Alongside the legend of Richie McCaw and Liam Messam, Read has led the most effective back row in the world, covering insane amounts of ground and forming a pack with some terrifying rucking skills. It would also be remiss to forget some individual performances outside of the All Blacks side, such as Leigh Halfpenny winning both the Six Nations and Lions series, Sergio Parisse’s continued ability to carry an improving Italian side, and Eben Etzebeth’s emergence as one of the most fearsome second rows around and a man always game for a scrap.
Emerging Player of the Year
There are a number of players who might claim this award. In England colours, 21-year-old Billy Vunipola established himself as the leading candidate for the number eight shirt come the Six Nations, with some heavy running, particularly against the world number one side. Siya Kolisi turned many heads in the northern hemisphere in South Africa’s back row, and although the strength in that position has made a permanent breakthrough difficult, there can be no doubt that he has a bright future ahead of him. However, for me, the most exciting player to emerge on the international scene this year has been rugby league convert Israel Folau, whose direct running and lightening pace has made him already one of the top full-backs in the world. Here’s are his two trys against the Lions on debut, including an absolute doozy of a step which made Jonny Sexton look very silly indeed.
Tackle of the Year
Folau may have had one of the great starts to a union career this year, but few will forget the introduction George North gave him. Built in the Lomu mould, North is every bit the modern winger, demonstrating remarkable size and speed. It’s fair to say that Folau will have spent all week preparing to take him on, but he almost certainly did not expect this. Honourable mentions must also go to Beauden Barret for a remarkable tap tackle and this from Richard Hibbard which rather sums up how hard it must be to play against Wales (just listen to the noise the hit makes…).
Try of the Year
There are a lot of different candidates for this in 2013. So many great individual efforts, team efforts, tries of great significance, and obviously, the inevitable number of successful cross-kicks from the boot of Danny Cipriani. Stuart Hogg’s interception effort against Italy at Murrayfield will have caused stirring in the loins of many Scotland fans, partly for its brilliance, and partly for the fact that it might herald the arrival of a new hero; Alex Cuthbert’s second try against England just about lifted the roof off the Millennium Stadium; and Will Genia reminded everyone why he is the best 9 in world rugby. However, my choice is a little left field. Just watch it. Tom Croft is a flanker. And he did this.
Moment of the Year
There couldn’t only be one of these, so I crowd-sourced across a number of platforms and came up with a top 5. They’re all quite different moments in their own right, but the best one? You decide.
The Lions win their first series in Australia since 1989
Simon Zebo’s footballing skills to set-up Cian Healy’s try
George North’s ‘reverse tackle’ on Israel Folau
Ryan Crotty’s try to complete New Zealand’s unbeaten year (videos above)
Italy beat France at the Stadio Olympico in a famous victory