With a busy year almost over we look back over the last 12 months and hand out our awards – good and bad – to a number of worthy recipients.
The lights are dimming, which means it is time for the ceremony to start. Please take your seats…
Planet Rugby Awards 2016
Player of the Year: Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
The Hurricanes fly-half started the year behind Aaron Cruden in the pecking order to replace the legendary Dan Carter as the All Blacks’ first-choice number 10, but there was little doubt that he deserved his place the world champions’ starting line-up by the end of the year. The 25-year-old had a superb season in which his brilliant playmaking skills played a major role in the Hurricanes run to their first ever Super Rugby triumph.
Barrett continued with his scintillating form during New Zealand’s 3-0 series whitewash on home soil over Wales during the June Tests as well as their successful Rugby Championship campaign and their end-of-year tour of the Northern Hemisphere. Blessed with a great rugby brain and a superb turn of speed, Barrett proved a handful for opposing defences throughout the year and whether he was setting up tries for his team-mates or scoring them himself, he seldom put a foot wrong and is a deserved winner of this award.
Team of the Year: England
Narrowly out-voting Fiji Sevens, it has been some year for England after one of their most painful with that disaster of a Rugby World Cup. A first Grand Slam in 11 years, a first-ever series win in Australia, and in the end an unbeaten year are why England rightly take home this award. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of their success this year is how far they have to develop, starting with the return of a number of top stars for the 2017 Six Nations.
England have gone from eighth in the world following their RWC exit to second, a turnaround that no one has embodied more than flanker and former captain Chris Robshaw. Eddie Jones might not believe that England have any world-class players yet, but some are starting to knock on the door. All in all, a fantastic year.
Coach of the Year: Eddie Jones (England)
We would have laughed you out the room at the tail end of 2015 if you suggested England would win all 14 of their Test matches under Jones in his first year in charge. It has been quite a year for England as discussed above and so much of it comes down to Jones and the way he has inspired a talented group of players. He has more or less delivered on the plans he laid out during his opening press conference, putting some bite back into England’s set-piece and giving his side confidence to succeed.
Appointing Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard has paid off given the success of England’s forwards and their set-piece, and even though England’s playing style might not be the all-out attack yet that Jones has in mind, they have forced teams into more mistakes than they themselves have made, and that has been key to their success. Joe Schmidt, Ben Ryan, Pat Lam and Steve Hansen all deserve credit.
Women’s Player of the Year: Portia Woodman (New Zealand)
Without a doubt the most talented female player on the planet. Woodman might have missed out on Sevens gold in Rio, and no one felt that pain more, but she has been outstanding for New Zealand whether in Sevens or for the Black Ferns all year, capped off by her hat-trick against Ireland last month.
Six Nations Player of the Year: Maro Itoje (England)
It seems crazy now given the impact he has had on 2016 that Maro Itoje didn’t even feature in England’s opening day win over Scotland, winning his first cap a week later on Valentine’s Day as a nation fell in love with his talents. Itoje was phenomenal in first three starts against Ireland, Wales and France, all big wins on England’s route to the Grand Slam, topping tackle counts and winning turnovers.
Rugby Championship Player of the Year: Ben Smith (New Zealand)
Continued where he left off in 2015 for his country with several impressive performances as the All Blacks swept all before them on their way to the Rugby Championship title. Smith caught the eye with his superb reading of the game especially with ball in hand when he made countless line breaks and scored several tries. Also caught the eye with his bravery in defence and under the high ball.
Super Rugby Player of the Year: Dane Coles (Hurricanes)
Very close in our minds to being named Player of the Year after continuing his one-man revolution of the hooker position in 2016. Coles led the Hurricanes superbly all year and played through the pain of a rib injury in the final to ensure his side won their first title. Rock solid at the set-piece, it has been in the loose where he has been so exceptional, finishing the Super Rugby season with five tries.
European Player of the Year (2015/2016): Owen Farrell (Saracens)
Owen Farrell continues to grow as a player for both club and country and his efforts in helping Saracens and England to success cannot be downplayed. The fly-half was instrumental in Saracens winning the Champions Cup and Premiership as he finished the European competition as top points scorer (92), with his game management and defence also being outstanding throughout.
Mens’ Sevens Player of the Year: Osea Kolinisau (Fiji)
One of the game’s great leaders, Kolinisau made the 2015/2016 Sevens World Series dream team after his efforts in guiding Fiji to their second consecutive Series title. Fiji then were outstanding at the Olympics, blowing Great Britain away in the final, with Kolinisau leading from the front.
Womens’ Sevens Player of the Year: Charlotte Caslick (Australia)
A brilliant 2016 from Australia’s Charlotte Caslick as she led her side to Olympic Sevens and World Series glory. All year she caused opposition defences problems galore with her step and change of gear before either going on to score herself or make the right call at the right time. Caslick will be a marked woman this year but don’t think that will stop her wreaking havoc in 2017.
Newcomer of the Year: Anton Lienert-Brown (New Zealand)
It was quite some year for Anton Lienert-Brown as he established himself as an integral part of the Chiefs midfield before his excellent Super Rugby form led to an All Black call-up. For New Zealand the 21-year-old played like someone on 50 plus caps as he oozed class, scoring two tries in his nine appearances. A strong runner, distributor and smart operator, Lienert-Brown had a fine 2016.
Try of the Year: Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
Big claims here from Japan against Scotland along with Ardie Savea’s effort for the Hurricanes against the Highlanders. But we went with IRPA in picking out this superb effort from Ireland, rounded off by number eight Jamie Heaslip.
Finish of the Year: Tevita Kuridrani v France
This was something special. In real time it looked an incredible finish but on replay this score from Australia centre Tevita Kuridrani against France got better and better. It could not have been closer as Loann Goujon and the rest of us, were left amazed.
Assist of the Year: Mitchell Drummond (Canterbury)
Three nominations were in the mix for this award and they included Otago flanker Adam Knight‘s brilliant pull-back on the dead-ball line and France scrum-half Baptiste Serin‘s lovely no-look pass. But it goes to another number nine, Canterbury’s Mitchell Drummond, whose unbelievable back-door flick out to full-back Johnny McNicholl was out of the top drawer. What a wonderful piece of skill.
Match of the Year: Ireland v New Zealand
2016 will not go down as a year of great Test rugby, but among a see of mediocrity the game that stood out most was Ireland’s shock 40-29 victory over the All Blacks in Chicago. It was Ireland’s first win over the All Blacks in 29 Tests since 1905 and not only breaks 111 years of disappointment, but also brings to an end New Zealand’s Tier-1 Test record of 18 consecutive wins. No Irish side has ever put 40 points past the All Blacks but this team did, scoring five tries in the process in what will go down as their most famous win and one of the best first-half performances ever.
Moment of the Year: Fiji’s Olympic Gold
Sevens at the Olympics was a huge success, and made even more special by watching Fiji tear through the competition. Their demolition of Great Britain in the Gold Medal match was a masterclass, winning 43-7 to win not just the first rugby gold medal in over eighty years, but Fiji’s first-ever Olympic medal too.
Departing Legend: Paul O’Connell (Munster and Ireland)
Hopes that O’Connell’s career would continue with Toulon unfortunately never came to be, the great Ireland lock retiring in February after failing to fully recover from the horrendous hamstring injury he suffered during the Rugby World Cup. A Munster legend one of Irish Rugby’s great second-rows, O’Connell has left a tremendous legacy with both Munster and Ireland. Not bad for a guy who grew up wanting to be a top swimmer.
Worst ban: Enrique Pieretto (Argentina)
Seven weeks for a stamp to the head? Madness. Pieretto was lucky not to be suspended for double that amount of time after his red card against England.
Best tribute: Anthony Foley in Chicago
So much emotion around Ireland and New Zealand’s fixture in Chicago soon after the loss of Anthony Foley, and Ireland faced up to the haka with a wonderfully understated tribute.
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) 5 November 2016
Referee blunder Award: Wrong Shingler brother
To yellow card the wrong player is bad enough, as we saw here from referee Lloyd Linton. But the fact the two players involved are brothers, and the wrong one gets sent off? That truly beggars belief.
“One of the most ridiculous decisions you’ll see” says @charlorugby
Do you agree?
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) 28 October 2016
‘What just happened?’ Award: Nick Phipps and Malakai Fekitoa’s boot
Phipps’ disdain for Fekitoa’s boot remains hard to understand. There are unconfirmed reports that he plans to enter the Olympics shotput in 2020.
Worst foul play: Mathieu Uglalde’s gouge
Mathieu Ugalde’s 14-week ban never seemed like long enough. One of the worst incidents of eye gouging we can remember for some time, he was barely repentant in the aftermath, insisting that his fist was closed. He returns to the field on January 2.
Brive’s Mathieu Ugalde could be in real trouble for this apparent gouge attempt on Grenoble’s Armand Battle. pic.twitter.com/9gz5mjR9Qy
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) 11 September 2016
Best occasion: Chiefs v Crusaders in Fiji
A long overdue event was unsurprisingly a huge success, with fans turning out in their thousands in Suva for the Super Rugby match hosted by the Chiefs against the Crusaders. The weather on the day was absolutely horrendous, yet both sides turning a performance of truly incredible skill considering what they were up against. The more Super Rugby games in the Pacific Islands the better.
Shock of the Year: Spain Sevens
Time up on the clock, and a place in the Olympics on the line. High stakes, and didn’t Spain know it. Ignacio Martín’s try in the corner sparked incredible celebrations as Samoa, a core side on the Sevens World Series, missed out on the final spot in Rio.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) 19 June 2016
Worst pitch: Melbourne AAMI Park
Cast your mind back to Super Rugby and then the second Test between England and Australia in Melbourne. It was not pretty. Scrums churned up what was supposed to be a Test match worthy surface within a matter of seconds. It was so bad that the ARU threatened to move future matches away from the AAMI sandpit. We hope to see less of a mess in 2017.
Story of the Year: Connacht
A title quite unlike any other. Back in 2003 the IRFU came close to shutting down Galway’s side. Now they are the reigning PRO12 champions, a side bursting with young Irish talent playing an attacking style of rugby which has won them thousands of new fans far from the Sportsground. They defeated Leinster in the final with conviction. If there is a sour note to their rise this year, it is the impending departure of Pat Lam next season to join Bristol. Then again, he has already done so much.
First-timers Award: Kenya, Samoa, Scotland
With all the attention on Fiji’s success and the Olympics, we should remember that the final three legs of last season’s Sevens World Series saw three different title winners – Kenya in Hong Kong, Samoa in Paris, and Scotland at Twickenham. The bigger the list of contenders in Sevens, the better.
Multi-try scorer: Christian Wade’s six with Worcester
Most sides struggle to score six tries in a game, let alone a single player, but then Christian Wade has always been very special. This was some way to bring up 100 appearances for your club too. Wade in the process tied the Premiership record for the most tries in a match, set by Saracens’ Ryan Constable 16 years beforehand – to the day!
‘Styling it out’ Award: Morocco’s Adil Achahbar
Unconfirmed reports that Achahbar followed up this excellent recovery by dominating the Hong Kong nightlife. Smooth. Nice try too.
‘Losing your cool’ Award: Silvère Tian
Piece of advice – never tell Romain Poite that he’s pissing you off. After he has given you a yellow card. And definitely do not then try and fight him on your way off field. Because you will be banned for 14 months.
Worst drop goal attempt: Sergio Parisse
We love Parisse. You will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t. The Italian icon has carried the Azzurri on his back for year. But this… this was not the time or place to go full Jonny Wilkinson.