With another 12 months in the books Planet Rugby editor Adam Kyriacou mulls over the highs and lows of 2017 and looks ahead to the future.
Hasn’t 2017 flown by? It’s been all go at Planet Rugby with more games than ever before due, rightly or wrongly, to tournaments expanding.
There’s also been plenty of movement in personnel but with a recent new arrival and the veterans all contributing to the cause with a real hunger to go above and beyond, it is great to report a happy camp that we hope to build on in terms of global coverage in the near future.
David Skippers and Oscar Sanders are currently enjoying well-earned time off over the December-January period, while the arrival of Colin Newboult is an exciting one. That trio, bolstered by our Loose Pass stalwarts Danny Stephens and Andy Jackson, James While bringing us his Expert Witness articles and Sam Larner opening our eyes to the things some might have missed from an analysis side have all been on point.
The recent debut of Life after Rugby has too been an instant success, with James joining Sam Meade in tracking down past professionals to bring us their story on what comes next once the boots are hung up. This has been an important addition to the website, particularly in a day and age when the well-being of former players is being highlighted. Of course a lot more needs to be done but there has been progress.
So to this year on the field. We’ve had the usual domestic run-ins and it was wonderful to see Exeter pick up the Premiership title – Rob Baxter’s superb work at the Chiefs hitting a new high – while the Scarlets lifted the PRO12 title playing some slick rugby in the process.
Clermont won their second Top 14 title while it was back-to-back European wins for Saracens, beating the aforementioned side in the final.
The Six Nations was England’s once again as their form under Eddie Jones was motoring. That was until the final match of the Championship, against Ireland, when they came unstuck in Dublin. They recovered and now a competitive Six Nations is looming with Scotland and Wales set to challenge the aforementioned duo. The jury is out on the now Jacques Brunel coached France, while Italy continue to struggle.
Elsewhere the Women’s Rugby World Cup was a superb watch, as was the Sevens Series, as they both continue to go from strength to strength.
Of course the highlight was the British & Irish Lions tour, a series many thought New Zealand would win at a canter. How wrong that was as the Lions and All Blacks shared the spoils. The much talked about quality gap between the hemispheres is now a thing of the past as three of the top five nations in the rankings are from north of the equator, which is a credit to not just national setups but also their clubs.
While the Premiership, PRO14 and Top 14 are in good health, the same can’t be said for Super Rugby and drastic action was taken at the end of 2017 in order to balance the books and make it a more competitive tournament. An all-New Zealand final seemed destined from the outset – despite an absurd format that favoured some teams – and that filtered into another flat Rugby Championship. Let us hope 2018 is different.
No other tournament should the term ‘less is more’ be heeded than Super Rugby as we feel more still must be done in terms of streamlining the product, bringing it back to its glory days. Otherwise its interest will continue to shrink at venues that are already low on numbers.
In contrast, the addition of the Cheetahs and Kings has been welcomed by PRO14 fans, with European players enjoying the tour element that has come with it. Although some may not need reminding of the lessons when meeting the South African wildlife and also visa requirements.
It’s been a year of learnings that’s for sure, none more so than the 2023 World Cup host selection fiasco, but as long as the same mishaps are avoided, player welfare remains in the spotlight and teams pushing for honours such as Exeter, Saracens, Wasps, Glasgow, Scarlets, La Rochelle and others continue to play entertaining rugby, the signs are good for this coming year, with RWC 2019 in Japan fast approaching.
Bring on 2018. Happy New Year everyone!