With a bit of help from the army of stattos beavering away in various dark, cobweb-ridden, subterranean data storage rooms around the globe, Planet Rugby looks back at the best – and worst – of 2014 expressed in numerical form…
0 – Tries New Zealand have conceded when down to 14 men this year. It’s a remarkable statistic, considering it spans 70 minutes of Test rugby against all Top tier nations. Even more remarkable is that they have scored three tries of their own.
1 – Number of minutes it took Sam Burgess to break his cheekbone in the NRL grand final. With the rugby union world looking on with concern at the health of its potential future star, it took Burgess 79 more minutes to write himself into global rugby folklore in either code, by playing on for the rest of the match with said cheekbone fracture, not to mention giving a curious TV interviewer a frank appraisal of the cheekbone’s status as he was pounced upon while jogging into the half-time sheds. “It’s f*****, mate!” No further questions then…
1 – Also the number of minutes the unfortunate Stephen Moore has served Australia as captain of the rugby union team. Moore ruptured his ACL in the first of the Junes Tests in Brisbane, and a whole coaching staff has come and gone while he has been in rehab. A magnificent player, Moore will surely win his spot back for the World Cup. But that lone minute of captaincy may be his last.
2 – Number of host facilities damaged in anger during Michael Cheika-led team visits this year. The Brumbies sent a bill for just over A$ 1,000 to the Waratahs after Cheika lost his temper in April and broke a window in Canberra, but it seems the fittings are a little dearer in Ireland, where a EUR 8k bill was handed to the Wallabies in the wake of someone’s tantrum which damaged a door and the door frame, although it has been repeatedly stressed Cheika was elsewhere at the time.
4 – It’s been a tale of number fours this year. Bakkies Botha, who retired gracefully from the international scene despite the looming World Cup, and Brodie Retallick, who was voted IRB World Player of the Year. One global rugby legend departs the number four jersey, another pulls it on.
8 – Minutes into his final game of rugby, Brian O’Driscoll was forced from the field against Glasgow in the RaboDirect Pro12 Final with a calf niggle. Of all things. Rugby still misses him. You could wax lyrical about humility and many of his other virtues – not to mention being arguably the greatest centre the game has ever seen but perhaps his best moment was his final on-pitch interview, as he cast a satisfied eye over the throngs of celebrating home fans: “This…. this is what it’s all about,” he said. Then he went out and celebrated with a takeaway pizza, a can of Coke and a large Toblerone.
15 – Still internationally active Test centurions heading into World Cup year. Top of the active pile is Richie McCaw, who needs just five more caps to become the most-capped test player of all time. That list comprises four All Blacks, three Springboks, two Welsh, an Irishman, a Wallaby and an eyebrow-raising four Italians.
17 – Years since Jonny Wilkinson stepped onto Newcastle’s field as a stripling dwarfed by the likes of Inga Tuigamala. Over that 17 years he has won every major senior honour possible (in the north anyway), backing up his Premiership, multiple Six Nations and World Cup with the Heineken Cup and Top 14 – the latter his last professional game. Rugby misses him too.
22 – Matches against the southern hemisphere big three Wales had stayed winless before they finally shook the monkey off the back with the 12-6 win over South Africa in November.
26 – Phases Northampton Saints went through after 100 gruelling minutes of rugby, before Alex Waller dotted down under a pile of bodies to win the Premiership Final against Saracens. It was a year of belting finales…
35 – Seconds left on the clock when Bernard Foley’s nerveless match-winning penalty dropped over the bar in Sydney in the Super 15 Final. See above about belting finales.
50 – Weeks has Dylan Hartley now spent kicking his heels on the sideline for disciplinary offences ranging from gouging and biting to referee abuse during his tempestuous career. How – and Matt Smith’s theatrics notwithstanding – Hartley has only seen three weeks for what was a clear and wanton off-the-ball elbow to the face despite the disciplinary officer in question’s assertion that he is a repeat offender, is beyond most observers.
28,524 – Excited fans who went to see Wasps’ home debut at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena. Many criticised the move, but, for now at least, the local populace has voted overwhelmingly for the positive with bums on seats.
48,000 – Australian Dollars stripped from the wallet of Kurtley Beale after a ridiculously drawn-out disciplinary process over some bad taste text messages. And after the weeks of wrangling, resignations, nervous breakdowns, thin PR smoke from ARU HQ and media witch-hunts, we still don’t know who sent the most offensive text.
5,500,000 – Pounds is still the limit Premiership teams can spend on player salaries. It looks a bit miniscule when Dan Carter can take home a fifth of that in Paris, but when you consider the WRU only has a little bit more in their dual contract fund…
by Danny Stephens