Planet Rugby Awards: France, Eben Etzebeth, Ruby Tui, Mathieu Raynal and La Rochelle among our winners in 2022

Jared Wright
antoine dupont, eben etzebeth and ruby tui

As 2022 winds to a close, we take a look back at the last 12 months of rugby and hand out our awards, good and bad, to worthy recipients.

So without further ado, here are our winners and, in some cases, losers.

2022 Planet Rugby Awards

Men’s Test Team of the Year: France

Allez Les Bleus! France pick up our first gong, edging Ireland by the smallest of margins. An unbeaten year, a first Grand Slam in 12 years, and scalps over Australia and South Africa. It just couldn’t go to any other side.

Coach of the Year: Fabien Galthie – France

It’s only fitting that the Les Bleus head coach picks up the Coach of the Year off the back of his side claiming the Men’s Team of the Year. Despite winning all of their matches, Fabien Galthie’s team ended the year ranked second on the world rankings. The win over the Springboks in November means he has now beaten every Tier One nation since taking the reins in 2020.

Women’s Test Team of the Year: New Zealand

An incredible year for the Black Ferns as they beat the odds to end England’s unprecedented run of 30 games unbeaten to win the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealanders did not succumb to the pressure of a home World Cup and won all their matches on their way to glory. 

Women’s Test Coach of the Year: Wayne Smith (New Zealand)

The Women’s Test Coach of the Year was an easy decision after Wayne Smith’s World Cup-winning campaign with the Black Ferns. He successfully turned the team’s fortunes around after underwhelming results in 2021. Simon Middelton’s streak with England must be commended, and had he won the World Cup; he no doubt would have taken this gong.

Super Rugby Pacific Team of the Year: Crusaders

Unsurprisingly, Scott Robertson’s charges claim our Super Rugby Team of the Year award after defeating the Blues 21-7 in the final back in June, the close runner-ups to this prize. Crusaders won their 11th title, ending the Blues’ 14-game unbeaten run in comprehensive fashion.

European Club Team of the Year: La Rochelle

It’s hard not to go for the Champions Cup-winning team despite stiff competition from their fellow Top 14 rivals Lyon. But La Rochelle’s victory over four-time Champions Leinster in the final cemented their status as European giants. Ronan O’Gara’s charges bounced back from the heartbreak of 2021 and served up a stunning performance to edge Leinster 24-21 in 2022, having defeated Montpellier and Racing 92 on the way to the showpiece event. 

Game of the Year: Rugby World Cup Final

Honourable mentions must go out to the pulsating first Bledisloe Cup match between Australia and New Zealand, as well as the France-South Africa game in November. However, there was only one winner here, as we were treated to one of the most memorable finals for all the right reasons.

Two heavyweights of the women’s game slugged it out, producing stunning performances in a game that had it all. Not even a red card could ruin this match. England flexed their forward dominance, New Zealand responded through their backs, and the reverse was true throughout the game as New Zealand sealed the result in the final. 

Try of the Year: Australia v France

There were so many fantastic tries to choose from, but we settled on the Wallabies’ stunner against France this November. 

Lakakai Foketi rounded off the five-pointer, but it was a magical team try originating from just five metres from their line. One to rival France’s score from the end of the world back in 1994.

Solo Try of the Year: Rodrigo Fernandez v USA

Rodrigo Fernandez’s try won World Rugby’s men’s Try of the Year Award and claims our Solo Try of the Year despite strong contenders in Henry Arundell and Mateo Carreras.

Fernandez’s try went viral at the time, and rightly so, as it helped Chile in their bid to qualify for their first-ever Rugby World Cup.

In torrid conditions, Fernandez fields the ball just outside his own 22; he glides past four USA defenders with extreme ease and sprints into the Americans’ half. From there, he dummies his way past two defenders and races in to score an absolute blinder.

Men’s Player of the Year: Eben Etzebeth

Josh van der Flier was a worthy winner of the World Rugby Player of the Year Award from the nominees picked. However, we believe Eben Etzebeth and Ardie Savea were the two standout players across 2022, with the Springbok lock nudging slightly ahead of the All Blacks’ back-rower.

In a year where he brought up his 100th Test cap for the Springboks, Etzebeth showed no sign of slowing down, featuring in all 13 Test matches, starting all but one. He was arguably the best forward on the pitch in every single one of those games, if not the best player. His physicality and lineout prowess was too much for some teams to handle.

Women’s Player of the Year: Ruby Tui

We agree with World Rugby on this one despite stiff competition from Amy Cokayne. Ruby Tui took the gamble of switching to 15s from sevens, and it well and truly paid off as she helped New Zealand to World Cup glory. Her energy around the pitch was contagious, and her work rate was off the charts.

Performance of the Year: Italy v Wales

In a year filled with outstanding performances from individual players and collectively from a team, it took a lot of work to nail down just one performance that bettered the rest.

The Bulls’ semi-final win over Leinster in the United Rugby Championship certainly deserves mentioning, as does the Pumas’ Currie Cup final win over the Griquas.

Over in Europe, Montpellier and La Rochelle came close with their final wins, as did Georgia’s wins over Italy and Wales.

But Italy ending their 36-game wait for victory in the Six Nations by defeating Wales in Cardiff snaps up the award.

Ange Capuozzo’s brilliance to set Edoardo Padovani up for the match-winning try will be remembered for years to come, but it was an incredible performance from the Azzurri from start to finish.

Controversy of the Year: Bernard Laporte

Worcester Warriors and Wasps entering administration came close to taking the unwanted award until news broke of Laporte receiving a two-year suspended prison sentence for corruption.

He was also handed €75,000 fine, and the World Rugby vice-president has now stepped down from his position with rugby’s governing body but still holds his role as president of the French Rugby Federation.

A sad state of affairs, particularly with the World Cup just nine months away.

Biggest disappointment: Spain’s World Cup qualification mess

Rassie Erasmus’ tweets criticising the referees and his subsequent suspension came in a close second to Spain’s disqualification from the Rugby World Cup for a second time.

Spain qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup but were found guilty of fielding ineligible players soon after, resulting in their disqualification, and 2022 delivered some déjà vu for the Europeans.

This time it was falsified documents from Gavin van den Berg that cost the Spaniards as they copped a 10-point deduction to the European qualification table. A real disappointment, especially considering the scenes after they secured their place at France 2023.

Most innovative play: Bulls’ quick tap moves

The Barbarians feature as a runner-up with Damian McKenzie’s kick to set up Mike Brown, but the Bulls’ set moves from tap penalties takes the gong.

A slight innovation and a throwback to schoolboy rugby, it is nostalgic yet effective and has inspired teams to rethink what can be done from penalties close to the line.

Comeback of the Year: Warren Gatland

This time last year, Wales were Six Nations champions and ended the year with a solid enough autumn that Wayne Pivac was safe. But now Gatland is back in charge and will lead Wales in a fourth Rugby World Cup; who would have thought? Even if he hasn’t officially started his second stint, it is a remarkable comeback.

Turnaround of the Year: Michael Cheika and Argentina

What a year it has been for Argentine rugby. Michael Cheika has driven the team to new heights, defeating the All Blacks in New Zealand and finally got one over his rival Eddie Jones by upsetting England at Twickenham. 

Los Pumas did have their ups and downs this season, but overall, since Chieka’s appointment, the side has been on an upward trajectory.

Biggest relief: Italy winning a Six Nations match

We wondered if it was ever going to come. Italy’s victory over Wales already claimed our Performance of the Year, but they also take home our Biggest relief award, finally claiming a Six Nations win. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait seven years and 36 matches for their next victory in the competition.

Unsung Team of the Year: Georgia

Italy and Chile certainly earned their praise this year, but Georgia’s brilliance flew somewhat under the radar. They lost just one official Test match in 2022, going down to a powerful Samoan side while defeating Italy and Wales for the first time. They bagged a fourth successive Rugby Europe Championship title, claiming three wins and a draw. In November, the Lelos comfortably dispatched Uruguay and left it late to defeat Wales, flexing their scrummaging dominance throughout the year.

With superstar full-back Davit Niniashvili, and half-backs Gela Aprasidze, Vasil Lobzhanidze and Tedo Abzhandadze, Georgia are becoming a well-rounded team that must be taken seriously.

Best interview: Ruby Tui

The props stole the show in 2021, but it was all Ruby Tui this year. You could type her name into YouTube and find a few contenders for Interview of the Year, but we selected her speech after the Rugby World Cup Final.

Feelgood moment: Marvin Orie and Stormers players after URC Final

We weren’t short of options for feelgood moments with all the upsets and moments of glory in 2022, but our pick goes to Stormers’ lock Marvin Orie.

It was a simple gesture from the lock who gifted his scrum cap to the little boy who handed him his United Rugby Championship medal after beating the Bulls in the final.

Teammate of the Year: Sedbergh youngster

The coach in this video put it perfectly when he said, “Best teammate ever.”

This heartwarming pep talk went viral earlier this year, and rightfully so, it is just brilliant.

Bizarre moment: Mathieu Raynal’s time-wasting call

Some weird and wonderful things happen on and off the rugby pitch every year, and 2022 was no different.

There were some wild moments throughout the year, from a rare penalty shootout between Munster and Toulouse to Angus Bell scoring an own try for New Zealand, to Otago’s Ben McCarthy slotting a conversion after a streaker ran in front of him, to England Sevens wasting two minutes against Argentina.

A truly bizarre year, but our pick goes to Mathieu Raynal’s call to penalise Bernard Foley for wasting time during the first Bledisloe Cup Test.

The decision was lauded, hated and debated, but it left us all stunned when it first happened.

Brain fade award: Forward pass in the Pro D2

This award usually goes to a player failing to score, as Sekou Macalou did against Brive.

But this time, we have gone for one of the most forward passes you will ever see! After Narbonne missed this shot at goal, Rouen’s Peter Lydon forgot to dot the ball down before throwing the pass.

Spirit of rugby: Josh Adams gives his man of the match medal to Ange Capuozzo

Italy’s win over Wales features again! This time it was the actions of Josh Adams, who was named man of the match before the final whistle.

After receiving his award, Adam sought out Capuozzo and handed the Italian the medal. A class touch.

Biggest front-row union violation: Drop kick from a goal line dropout

We have picked out five front-rowers whose front-row union memberships are in danger of being revoked!

Bevan Rodd channelled his inner inside centre when he broke through the Ospreys’ defence and threw a superb pass to set up Aaron Reed for a try back in January. While his membership might be safe for now, Maxime Lamothe is still under review for his outrageous try against Montpellier

Forgeside Rugby Club’s tighthead prop Brad’s match-winning conversion in April was deemed a serious violation by our panel.

The 10-12 axis of Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge have put been put on notice for their behaviour against the Sale Sharks in September.

But the biggest violation of the year was this prop slotting a drop kick from a goal line drop out, membership revoked!

Sledge of the Year: Julian Montoya and Peter O’Mahony

There were two standout sledges this year, and we couldn’t decide between the two.

Peter O’Mahony brilliantly chirped Sam Cane in the second Test between New Zealand and Ireland. In the latter stages of the match, after a tussle, O’Mahony was overheard on the referee mic saying to Cane: “Who do you think you are? You’re a s**t Richie McCaw pal.”

Julian Montoya was on top of sledging form against Scotland, as he was overheard on the referee’s mic saying, “do you want me to speak in Afrikaans?” after a scuffle involving Duhan van der Merwe.

Afterwards, Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie told Montoya to “set an example, big fella”, and his comments came back to bite him when he was yellow-carded alongside Thomas Gallo after a brawl two minutes later. Montoya responded brilliantly, saying, “really good example; you must be proud,” before sarcastically clapping the flanker off the field.

Celebration of the Year: Zach Kibirige

Jonny Hill gets a notable mention after showing off his seam bowling action after scoring a try against Australia at the SCG

However, our award goes to Zach Kibirige, who re-enacted Felipe Contempomi’s celebration for Bristol when he scored for the Barbarians.

After scoring, he ran into the stands and applauded his effort.

READ MORE: The Year in Numbers: Including Wayne Barnes’ record, France’s winning run and Rassie Erasmus’ suspensions