At the end of another jam-packed year in rugby, we pick out the individual stars who deserve recognition for their accomplishments in 2013.
At the end of another jam-packed year in rugby, we pick out the individual stars who deserve recognition for their work.
It has been a fine 12 months loaded with a British and Irish Lions series, an unbeaten year for the All Blacks and goodbyes to legends of the game.
Please, take your seats.
Player of the Year: Kieran Read (Crusaders and New Zealand)
We had no problems agreeing with the IRB on their selection of Kieran Read as Player of the Year for 2013. Read missed only the Test in Japan this year and scored six tries in the 13 matches that he did play in for the All Blacks, but it's not about the numbers.
The Crusaders number eight has an uncanny ability when it comes to running the perfect support lines, producing key turnovers and scoring when it counts. His leadership has been outstanding, his character and athletic ability a credit to the sport. In a year where Ben Smith and Leigh Halfpenny were both excellent, Read was just better. The best player in the world.
Team of the Year: New Zealand
14 wins from 14 Tests and the most tries scored by a Tier One nation with 51. Who else could it be but the All Blacks?
Newcomer of the Year: Israel Folau (Waratahs and Australia)
So much for the former Rugby League and AFL star settling into Union. Israel Folau finished his first year in the game with ten tries for the Wallabies, equalling Lote Tuqiri's annual record, while also finishing second for tries scored in Super Rugby with eight for the Waratahs.
His ability under the high ball is second to none and Australia can now build around him ahead of the next Rugby World Cup. An astonishing athlete.
Coach of the Year: Dave Rennie (Chiefs)
Back-to-back Super Rugby titles is some achievement for Rennie and the Chiefs, whose attacking style of play at times was mesmerising. Questions lingered before the start of this year's campaign whether the Waikato outfit could taste glory for a second year without the presence of Sonny Bill Williams in midfield, but he was barely missed.
Under Rennie's guidance the Chiefs scored more tries than any other team (54) and were the second best tackling team in the competition. With Liam Messam, Aaron Cruden et al there again next season, a third successive title is on the cards.
Warren Gatland's achievements with the Lions were outstanding, but Wales' inability to take down one of the big three again in November meant he missed out.
Six Nations Player of the Year: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales and the British and Irish Lions)
Casting our minds back to February and March the Wales full-back stood out. His try against Ireland was in vain but the accuracy of his goal-kicking was essential in the away wins over France, Italy and Scotland.
The top points scorer in the competition with 74, what people often forget about the utterly dominant 30-3 win over England to seal the title was that Halfpenny's four early penalties had Wales well out in front before Cuthbert struck. He would go on to be the Lions Player of the Series in Australia.
Rugby Championship Player of the Year: Ben Smith (Highlanders and New Zealand)
This writer was hollering for Ben Smith to be named IRB Player of the Year back at the end of The Rugby Championship, when all it seemed he could do was score tries. He scored so many in fact that he broke the Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship record previously held by Christian Cullen and Bryan Habana.
Smith's eight tries in six matches represent a brilliant landmark and a credit to his outstanding year. Smith made more metres in Super Rugby than any other player with 1427 and beat the second highest number of defenders with 57. The way he seamlessly slotted into the outside centre role during the November Tests was unsurprising.
Super Rugby Player of the Year: Liam Messam (Chiefs)
Christian Leali'ifano had a stellar year for the high-flying Brumbies and was brilliant in the final, but we couldn't ignore the Chiefs co-captain. Messam was the inspiration for a series of excellent performances from the defending champions as they marched towards another title.
He made the third highest number of tackles in the competition with 217, but Messam's carrying ability was also first-rate and he was a huge figure in the line-out. Ten points down with time running out in the final at Waikato Stadium, Messam's try off the base of the scrum swung momentum back towards the hosts before Robbie Robinson's score sealed successive titles. An inspiration.
Heineken Cup Player of the Year (2012-2013): Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon)
One of the game's greatest ever number tens was an essential part of Toulon's success in Europe last season. Wilkinson didn't miss a single penalty in the knockout stages, kicking five against Leicester, seven against Saracens and three in the Final against Clermont with a couple of customary drop-goals along the way.
His move to France has been the making of him and it's fitting to see one of the legends of the sport collect one of the most prestigious winner's medals available. Wilkinson finished the tournament as the second-highest top points scorer with 108, at the age of 34.
Try of the Year: Colin Slade, Highlanders v Sharks
Few words needed here. The Highlanders may have finished 14th in Super Rugby, but they served up some sizzling attacking play and this was the pick of the bunch from Colin Slade.
Match of the Year: South Africa 27-38 New Zealand, Ellis Park, 5 October
One for the ages. The Springboks came into this fixture with a mathematical chance of taking The Rugby Championship away from New Zealand, but only if they picked up maximum points and prevented the All Blacks from earning a single point of their own. Tendai Mtawarira's 50th cap was a thriller marked by Ben Smith breaking the try scoring record for the tournament with his eighth score.
Bryan Habana scored an excellent brace before limping off, with Liam Messam scoring twice himself to put New Zealand 21-15 ahead at half-time. Tries from Willie Le Roux and Jean de Villiers then secured the try bonus-point South Africa required, but Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read replied with two tries in four minutes to seal a second successive title for the All Blacks in a breathless game, with referee Nigel Owens hailed afterwards for his performance.
Outstanding Performance of the Year: The British and Irish Lions – Third Test v Australia, Sydney
The final 41-16 scoreline glosses over the fact that the Lions were very much in a contest for the first 56