As the year draws to a close we pick out those who have excelled and celebrate them with the Planet Rugby Awards 2015.
Some serious, some not so serious, here’s a look back at the best the year has had to offer. Take your seats!
Player of the Year: David Pocock
Daniel Carter was outstanding during the Rugby World Cup, no question, but we couldn’t ignore the efforts of Pocock for both the Brumbies and Wallabies as he returned to action from back-to-back knee reconstructions. At his best in 2015, Pocock was unplayable at the breakdown and a constant threat from rolling mauls as he helped the Wallabies win the Rugby Championship and reach the Rugby World Cup final. It’s a real pleasure for us to name him as our player of the year.
Team of the Year: New Zealand
We considered both Argentina and Japan for this accolade but couldn’t look past the world champions. Under huge expectations to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup they didn’t choke, humbling France in the quarter-final and then producing one of the best performances in World Cup final history to make it back-to-back titles. It capped a dominant four-year spell for the side under Steve Hansen, inspired by Carter and of course Richie McCaw. There just isn’t a better team on the planet.
Six Nations Player of the Year: Paul O’Connell
Watching O’Connell be stretchered off during the World Cup was a sorry sight and a mile away from the warrior we saw in the Six Nations, as he captained Ireland to back-to-back titles on a dramatic final day. It’s difficult to replicate the kind of influence O’Connell has over a side with all of his experience. At 35, with time with Toulon to follow when he recovers from his hamstring tear, it’s been a hell of a run.
Rugby Championship Player of the Year: Scott Fardy
Once regarded as international rugby’s most underrated talent, Fardy isn’t flying under the radar anymore. This has been the Australian’s year and in the Rugby Championship he won the second highest number of lineouts along with multiple penalties at the breakdown.
Super Rugby Player of the Year: Ben Smith
A huge part of the Highlanders’ surprise success. Smith was ably supported by a no-nonsense pack and threats out wide like Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo, not to mention half-backs Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga. But Smith’s calming assurance from full-back, his captaincy and impressive stats – fourth for offloads and carries, fifth for metres made and defenders beaten – show just how effective he was.
European Player of the Year (2014-2015): Nick Abendanon
Toulon might have been crowned Euopean champions for the third season in a row but we couldn’t ignore Abendanon’s accomplishments with Clermont. Not a whole lot was expected from the former England international after his move from Bath but he took the competition by storm, scoring a memorable try in the final.
Sevens Player of the Year: Werner Kok
Outstanding for South Africa in 2015 as his rugged style saw him finish up near the top in many of the statistics such as turnovers won. He only made his debut 2013 but looks like he’s been on the circuit for years and has become one of the Blitzboks most important men. An all-action player, Kok in fact won the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year award for 2015.
Newcomer of the Year: Nehe Milner-Skudder
At 24, he’s hardly fresh out of junior rugby but Milner-Skudder took the game by storm this year with his electric brand. Side-stepping so many throughout these past twelve months, NMS was a Super Rugby finalist and Rugby World Cup winner, who crossed first in the final and finished second on the overall try list. The question now is will teams have learned how to stop him. We doubt it.
Coach of the Year: Daniel Hourcade
This could have gone to Hansen, Jamie Joseph or even USA Sevens head coach Mike Friday, but in the end we plumped for Argentina’s boss. Hourcade helped inspire another memorable Rugby World Cup campaign for the Pumas and forged a special bond with his captain Agustin Creevy. Despite a few old heads retiring, the future looks bright for Argentina’s national side.
Try of the Year: Beauden Barrett v Stormers
2nd: Vereniki Goneva v Wales,
3rd: Ayumu Goromaru v South Africa
Getting the nod over two excellent scores from the Rugby World Cup, Beauden Barrett crossing to cap a long-range move against the Stormers was a spectacular try that we just couldn’t ignore. Ma’a Nonu’s pass… brilliant!
Finish of the Year: Christian Wade v Saracens
Just getting the nod over Julian Savea’s non-Miley Cyrus wrecking ball impression against France is this effort from Wasps flyer Christian Wade. This caused so much disbelief that we have to explain the rules to everybody in the comments and on Facebook. Very special.
Assist of the Year: James O’Connor v Sharks
The pinpoint accuracy of this kick from O’Connor into the hands of Stefan Ungerer – who was cramping! – has to be admired really. On a plate.
Success of the Year: Argentina
Grew and grew during 2015, Argentina were up there with one of the neutral’s favourites as they blended an exciting mix of power and expansive rugby. They beat South Africa in Durban 35-27 in a watershed win which gave them more confidence heading into the Rugby World Cup, where they finished in fourth place. In the tournament their highlight had to be that superb 43-20 win over Ireland.
History Boys Award: Highlanders
After years of the Crusaders and more recently the Chiefs dominating Super Rugby bragging rights in New Zealand, 2015 was all about the Hurricanes and Highlanders. They made the final and it was the latter who finished on top, sealing a deserved win that was led by head coach Jamie Joseph. Aaron Smith was the general whilst there were numerous unsung heroes up front, complimented very well by the class of Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga and, of course, Richard Buckman. A first title.
Match of the Year: England 55-35 France
Stuart Lancaster’s side needed a 26 or more point winning margin against France to claim the Six Nations title. The English were 7-15 down after 26 minutes but at the break it was 27-15 to the hosts, who were looking good as Ireland watched on nervously. After 55 minutes England led 41-25 before James Haskell was yellow carded for a trip which prompted France to break out and score through Vincent Debaty in what proved to be a crucial try. England kept on pressing but France would not go away and the game continued to provide high drama until the final whistle as Rory Kockott booted the ball out on his own try-line to deny England one last push for glory. What a game, what a day that had earlier seen Wales win 61-20 in Italy before Ireland beat Scotland 40-10 in what proved to be the title sealer.
Moment of the Year: Karne Hesketh try v South Africa
One of the great moments in the history of sport, let alone rugby or the World Cup. Taking Amanaki Mafi’s pass, Japan replacement Hesketh had the pace and space to go past JP Pietersen, scoring a try that shocked the world. The sight of Japanese supporters weeping in the stand to the guard of honour made by Springbok supporters at Brighton station will live long in the memory.
Healer of the year: Isei Naiova
It looked a certainty that Waisake Naholo would miss the World Cup after breaking his leg ahead of the tournament. But the Highlanders wing was told by his uncle Isei Naiova to get on a flight to Fiji where he applied traditional leaves to the leg and four days later he was cured. He proved to the All Blacks he was fit and then scored 73 seconds into his comeback, against Georgia. Some story.
Tackle of the Year: Ayumu Goromaru v Scotland
Japan were already up against it at the end of the first-half against Scotland only a few days after beating the Springboks, when Ayumu Goromaru produced this special try-saving tackle to keep the game alive at Kingsholm.
Man of the Year: Sonny Bill Williams
The man who most fans love to hate won over the world when he gave away his World Cup winners’ medal to a young fan in the Twickenham stands after he had been taken out by security trying to get to his All Blacks heroes. Williams’ gesture was a super moment. His work with UNICEF in Syria this week confirms what a gentleman he really is.
Celebration of the Year: Stade Français dressing room slide
Ten out of ten for potential disastrous consequences and also the slide from France prop Rabah Slimami, as Stade Français celebrated in style by nearly damaging the Bouclier de Brennus.
Leaky Defence Award: Soignies
Some context: it is believed their match against Kituro was set to be called off with no sign of the referee and with half their squad having packed up and gone home, Belgian side Soignies faced the prospect of using only 16 players for 80 minutes in order to gain “a loser’s point” rather than none at all from forfeiting. They went on to concede 56 tries and 38 conversions, although they did add a drop goal, in a 356-3 loss.
Sidestep of the Year: Nehe Milner-Skudder
Only one winner here and that is Nehe Milner-Skudder. The Hurricanes flyer wowed fans this year and starred for both franchise and New Zealand. So many stepping highlights but we’ve settled on what he did against the Crusaders in Super Rugby. Count them.
Best Documentary Award: Jean de Villiers – Road to Recovery
This outstanding three-part series followed the comeback of Jean de Villiers from his horrific leg injury suffered against Wales in November 2014 through to his comeback for the Springboks ahead of the Rugby World Cup. Beautifully shot and a real warts-and-all insight into the battles De Villiers faced.
Worst Advert Award: The Hakarena
Of course with every Rugby World Cup comes a whole catalogue or PR campaigns – some good, some absolutely not good. This however stole the show – a horrendous adaption of everyone’s most-hated wedding reception song fronted by Matt Dawson. A bad idea executed so poorly that this award was a given.
Flop of the Year: Sam Burgess
So much media attention and speculation surrounded every touch of a ball that Burgess took in rugby union, and the fact that he made England’s Rugby World Cup squad was seen as either a great success or a move of pure desperation depending which side you took. Weeks after starting in the World Cup for England against Wales, Burgess was back on the plane to Australia and rugby league. A shame? Absolutely, because he could have become a force as a flanker. But also a failure.
The Departing Legend Award: Richie McCaw
Steve Hansen has already tagged him as the greatest All Black and after 148 caps and 131 wins, Richie McCaw is now retired. What a career it has been for the Crusaders and New Zealand stalwart, who ended his international career in the best possible way; holding aloft the Webb Ellis trophy. McCaw won Super Rugby, NPC, Tri-Nations, Rugby Championship and more gongs in a stellar career.
Inspiration Award: Jonah Lomu
Lomu’s legacy was reflected in the incredible number of tributes that poured in to mark the great man’s passing last month. Rugby’s first superstar will be sorely missed, but that in no way means he’ll be forgotten. The tries he scored still defy belief to this day. Eric Rush’s tribute at his memorial service was a fitting farewell to an athlete who transcended our sport.
Hardwoman Award: Georgia Page
Videos have been made of how soccer players fall to the floor at the slightest contact compared with Georgia Page, who showed her toughness after being left bloodied from an earlier ruck. She got up, smashed an opponent and then cleared someone out before topping it all off by heading off the field with a blood spit for good measure. Tough woman.
Pass of the Year: Referee Falcon – NZ v France U20
Hey Ben Whitehouse, heads up!
Referee Howler Award: Craig Joubert v Scotland
This isn’t just about the contentious call to give Australia what proved to be a match-winning penalty against the Scots. It’s partly about the fact that Joubert ran off as if he’d just wandered into the middle of Celtic-Rangers derby. What were the Scottish players going to do, start swinging at him? Not to forget the ridiculous yellow card handed to Sean Maitland for a supposedly “deliberate” knock-on.
The ‘Kosuke Hashino Oh Dear’ Award: Ardie Savea v Waratahs
Named after last year’s proud winner Kosuke Hashino, one of the game’s brightest young talents gets to hang his head in shame for this botched effort with the line at his mercy. Chin up Ardie – bigger things await you.