With the 2013 rugby season around the corner, we reflect on the games, tries and players that made 2012 special.
By Craig Ray
In the first of our glances backwards we look at the games.
Best games of 2012
1. England v NZ (38-21)
Twickenham, London – Five tries in the space of 14 second half minutes ensured it would be classic as England ran out with a record winning score over the All Blacks. The home team lead 15-0 early in the second half thanks to five Owen Farrell penalties before the All Blacks ominously struck back with two tries in two minutes. Instead of wilting England replied with three tries in 12 minutes to seal a sensational win and have their press already writing them up as potential world champions in 2015
2. Reds v Sharks (17-30)
Super Rugby play-off, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – The Sharks sneaked into the play-offs and as a result had to fly to Brisbane to take on the defending champion Reds knowing that the prize was a return trip to Cape Town to face the Stormers. Although the Reds had been below their best all season they appeared to be hitting form at precisely the right time. But the Sharks shrugged off jet lag to produce their most complete performance of the campaign to stun the home team. Tries from Charl McLeod, JP Pietersen and Paul Jordaan were instrumental in the win, but flyhalf Freddie Michalak’s superb solo performance won the game. He slotted three conversions, two penalties and a cheeky drop-goal in between pulling the strings majestically to send the Reds packing.
3. Leinster v Ulster (42-14)
Heineken Cup final, Twickenham, London – It’s not often a final is so lopsided, but Leinster backed up their 2011 win with a superb performance to claim their third overall title in four years. Captain Leo Cullen also became the first player to hold the trophy aloft three-times after his side outscored Ruan Pienaar’s Ulster by five tries to one. The Leinster pack dominated and there was no way that Ulster could compete as they were on the back foot from the start.
4. SA v England (36-27)
Ellis Park, Johannesburg – The first 30 minutes of the match represented the best of the Boks in 2012 and gave a glimpse of the potential of Heyneke Meyer’s squad. Inside the opening quarter the Boks scored three tries through Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis and Francois Hougaard. The power and the pace the Boks displayed in the first half hour was sensational and England were simply blown away. But the home team couldn’t continue to pace themselves and England bravely fought back to make it 31-27 to the Boks heading into the last 10 minutes. It should never have been so close but JP Pietersen scored a late try to secure the win and with it, the series.
5. France v England (22-24)
Six Nations, Stade de France – England gave signs of their return to the top of the game with a typically belligerent win in Paris. The Poms started quickly and stunned France with two tries from Manu Tuilagi and Ben Foden inside 18 minutes to rock the team back on its heels. Tom Croft added a third try late in the second half to keep the French at arms length after the visitors’ discipline had collapsed as France cranked up the pressure. A late French try meant the game was always in the balance until the end, which made for a superb blood and thunder spectacle.
6. NZ v SA (21-11)
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – If there were an away game against the old enemy the Boks should have won, it was this match. Although a 10-point winning margin for the All Blacks appears big the reality was that the Boks wasted their chances. Bryan Habana spilled the ball three metres short of an unguarded tryline early in the match while Dean Greyling also dropped the ball over the tryline. Goal-kickers Morné Steyn (4), Francois Steyn (2) and Johan Goosen (1) missed seven kicks between them. That kind of wastefulness against the world champions was duly punished. But there were bright spots. The forwards dominated the much-vaunted NZ pack, Goosen showed bright touches when coming into the game as a sub and Habana scored a cracking try from the top of a lineout.
7. SA v Australia (31-8)
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – The Boks bounced back from the Dunedin disappointment with an emphatic win over the Wallabies at Loftus. Goosen was promoted to starting flyhalf and while his goal-kicking was strangely average, the rest of his game wasn’t. He attacked the advantage line and freed the outside backs more liberally than his predecessor Morné Steyn, to great effect. Bryan Habana underlined his return to form with a superbly taken hat trick while Francois Louw and Zane Kirchner added two more tries.
8. England v SA (15-16)
Twickenham, London – The Boks were a little lucky to win this one but they also made a lot of their own luck through sheer bloody-mindedness. Willem Alberts try early in the second half ricocheted off two players before landing in his arms leaving him the small task of falling over the tryline for the score. Jean de Villiers cheekily described it as “a well-worked try” after the match. The real story though was the brilliance of the Bok defence that saw them make 150 tackles at the end of the longest season in history. It showed character and commitment, traits that will be valuable as they continue to rebuild in 2013.
9. Sharks v WP (18-25)
Currie Cup final, Kings Park, Durban – It was dramatic because WP hadn’t won the title since 2001 while the Sharks were into their second major final of the year. WP finally gained revenge for their Super Rugby semi-final loss earlier in the year as well as their 2010 Currie Cup final defeat to the Sharks in Durban. Juan de Jongh’s brilliant solo try was memorable but it was a day for the kickers with WP flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis slotting three penalties and a conversion as well as two dramatic late drop-goals – one with either foot – to seal the win.
10. Stormers v Sharks (19-26)
Super Rugby semi-final, Newlands, Cape Town – It was an epic performance by the Sharks only seven days after surprising the Reds in Brisbane. The Stormers were overwhelming favourites but the visitors pack edged the battle and behind Freddie Michalak produced another brilliant display to steer the team into the final and another plane journey across the Indian Ocean to face the Chiefs. Michalak landed two drop-goals to cap a fine performance.
Worst games of 2012
(No reviews of the matches because I couldn’t bring myself to watch them again.)
1. Australia v Scotland (6-9), Newcastle…snore
2. Reds v Rebels (11-6), Brisbane…snore
3. SA v England (14-14), Port Elizabeth…Jacques Potgieter…wtf?
4. Chiefs v Sharks (37-6), Hamilton…always going to be a one-sided bore after the Sharks’ travel schedule.
5. Italy v Scotland (13-6), Rome…it involved Italy and Scotland on an icy Rome day. Say no more.
6. Italy v Australia (19-22), Florence…Just nice to have Australia on the list twice.
7. Force v Lions (17-11), Perth…some things you can’t un-see.
8. Brumbies v Reds (12-13), Canberra…was anyone awake for the second half?
9. Cheetahs v Stormers (6-13), Bloemfontein…did anyone make it through the first half?
10. Sharks v Blue Bulls (13-12), Durban…zzzzzzzzzzz