JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE rate the real winners and losers of the 2010 season.
Springbok Rookie of the Year – Francois Hougaard featured on the Boks’ 2009 end-of-year tour, but his first real opportunity arrived on the home leg of the 2010 Tri-Nations. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to build on some impressive showings with more starting opportunities on the Grand Slam tour with Ruan Pienaar preferred at No 9. One player who did make the most of every opportunity, however limited, was Willem Alberts. The Sharks flanker followed up a fantastic Currie Cup with some rousing cameos against Wales, Scotland and England, and was awarded his first start against the Barbarians. Expect Alberts to be a regular in the Bok match 22 next season.
One for the Future Award – Another player who didn’t receive as many opportunities as he should have was Pat Lambie. Coach Peter de Villiers has clearly shown his hand ahead of the World Cup, with Morne Steyn the premier option at flyhalf. Lambie’s time may be post-2011, and judging by his offerings in the 2010 Super 14 and Currie Cup competitions, it promises to be an exciting time indeed.
Most Consistent Domestic Player – Uncompromisingly aggressive and underrated as a running No 8, Duane Vermeulen personified the hard edge of the revitalised Stormers in 2010. That he didn’t make the Boks’ touring squad was an absolute travesty.
Mighty Mouse Award – Australasians James O’Connor and Israel Dagg compensate for their lack of size with an ability to dazzle, and Gio Aplon falls into the same category. These three players, along with several other pint-sized dynamos, have brought the flair back to rugby.
Best Try of the Year – The most unforgettable moment of 2010 didn’t occur on the Test stage, but on that of the trendsetting Super 14. The Stormers had been criticised for their conservative style in the earlier rounds, but embraced a more open style in their fixtures against the Blues and Chiefs. The latter game witnessed the best try of the year, the ball travelling through 11 pairs of hands from the Stormers’ 22 to the Chiefs’ end-zone. Bryan Habana was the man to finish, but it was an inspirational example of team-work.
Biggest Hit of the Year – Alberts’ brutal tackle on Schalk Burger in the Currie Cup final is a close contender, but for sheer, game-defining ferocity, the best hit of 2010 goes to Danie Rossouw for his tackle on Lionel Nallet in the 42-17 win over France. Referee Bryce Lawrence stopped the game to check with his touch judge regarding the legality of Rossouw’s tackle, while Nallet was swarmed by French medical personnel. It was a hit that set the tone for the Boks’ physical dominance.
Coach of the Year – Within South Africa, there are some outstanding coaches. John Plumtree guided the Sharks to their second domestic title in three years, and Frans Ludeke helped the Bulls to their second consecutive Super 14 trophy. But internationally, there was only one coach in 2010. Graham Henry will be disappointed with the loss to Australia in Hong Kong, a defeat that halted the All Blacks’ march towards the world record for the most consecutive Test wins. On the other hand, the All Blacks went undefeated in the Tri-Nations and cruised to yet another Grand Slam.
Test Team of the Year – These achievements confirmed the All Blacks as the trendsetters of world rugby, and the team to beat in 2011. Some may suggest that they’ve peaked, but the All Blacks have struck an intimidating balance between running, kicking and mustering the physicality needed to quell traditional powerhouses like South Africa and England.
Test Player of the Year – While Schalk Burger should have won the SA Player of the Year award for his consistent performances in a struggling Bok team, he wasn’t even the second-best Test flanker in 2010. None of those nominated for the IRB’s Player of the Year award, not even David Pocock, came close to the eventual winner, Richie McCaw. In a year where a fetcher’s prominence was supposedly limited, McCaw retained his game-swinging penchant for dominating the breakdowns. As long as he’s fit, the All Blacks’ threat is enhanced.
Living Up to the Hype Award – If there were sub-categories for this award, it could be said that Pierre Spies, after four years, has finally lived up to the hype as an impressive physical specimen. The Bok No 8 delivered his most physical performances on the recent tour, and will be asked to carry this form through to the Super Rugby tournament. It will be interesting to see how Sonny Bill Williams fares in this competition, having dominated the home unions during New Zealand’s Grand Slam tour. His strength and ability to offload in the tackle gives the All Blacks something extra, and Williams certainly lived up to the pre-tour hype. He will, however, be up against better defensive teams in Super Rugby, so a greater test of his ability awaits.
Special mention to All Blacks’ flyhalf Dan Carter for breaking Jonny Wilkinson’s all-time point scoring record. Carter may move to France after the 2011 World Cup, which means he has at least another season to add to his impressive Test tally of 1 188 points.
The Foot in Mouth Award – Who else but Peter de Villiers? He began the madness by intimating that referees were favouring New Zealand in the Tri-Nations because it was in the interest of the World Cup to have a successful host team. That earned him the tag of ‘clown’ by rugby pundit Brendan Cannon, who was later forced to apologise. He then spoke on behalf of the Springboks (they hadn’t even discussed the issue) when he told the world that they supported alleged cop killer Bees Roux. De Villiers also instructed conditioning coach Neels Liebel to tell the media that John Smit and Ricky Januarie (among others) were in optimum condition. Two weeks later he said Smit didn’t know what it was like to feel good anymore. De Villiers ended a surreal year by declaring himself pleased with results in 2010. ‘It has been a brilliant year, one of the best in my life,’ he said, referring to a season where they relinquished the Tri-Nations title (winning just one Test) and losing to Scotland to end their Grand Slam dreams. ‘The scoreboard wasn’t good for us but that was the only thing.’
The Sultans of Spin Accolade – The English media for talking their team up from world chumps to world champs after an impressive performance against Australia. The broadsheets were filled with former players and coaches talking about them as serious contenders in New Zealand next year. They were then physically smashed by the Boks and normal service resumed, with the press inventing new words and phrases to describe the incompetence of their team.
The Biggest Fall from Grace - Earl Rose was a midweek Springbok in 2009, now he can’t get a Super 14 contract with the Cheetahs and looks destined for club rugby if he doesn’t move to a First Division union. Peter de Villiers likened his talent to that of Ruan Pienaar’s, but the likelihood of a European giant snapping up Rose, like Ulster did with Pienaar, is remote. He just isn’t good enough despite what De Villiers would like us to believe.
This is a job for Debra Patta… In 2009 referee Jonathan Kaplan was widely acknowledged as the world’s best official. A year later, he couldn’t get a high-profile game. It baffles how a referee can regress so quickly. Nobody at Sanzar or the IRB will provide answers and Kaplan refuses to discuss the issue. Something’s not right here.
The Hollywood Award – Springbok Sevens and Bulls player Deon Helberg for faking his own death in a plot so intriguing Hollywood soap-opera scriptwriters were in awe. Helberg got his assassins, who were allegedly hired by the 47-year-old Manda Reyneke (mother of his ex-girlfriend) to kill him but disclosed the plan to Helberg and police, to MMS a pic of his dead body to her. The Hawks swooped on the 47-year-old following her alleged approval of the pic, but she was later released on R5000 bail (R5000!) and ordered to attend a mental institution. Allegedly Reyneke sent approximately 2000 SMSs to the Nigerian hit men – some of those threatening to kill them if they didn’t complete the job. One such SMS, sent to one of the men at 17:10 on November 11, reads: ‘Be scared, be very afraid you have done me in and wrong with lies. You have never shot anybody the other night. That was revealed by the candle of truth.’ Another reads: ‘The shaman [a messenger between the human world and the spirit world] says I must wash my car with the blood; of a chicken… CHARLATAN – you charged very much silver for no service.’ Helberg told the media that he had never been intimately involved with Reyneke but suspected that she was reacting to him breaking up with her model daughter. The 21-year-old is in hiding for fear of the second assassination attempt. You just can’t make this stuff up.
Dirtiest Attempt at a Moustache – There were some classics in Movember, but Jean de Villiers’s doesn’t rank among them. The blond face fur made him look like a character from My Name is Earl. Best you stick to the clean-shaven upper lip, Jean.
Burgeoning Bromance – Anyone who follows Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale on Twitter will be familiar with their banter, often when they are in the same room. The trio spends most of their free time together when in camp with the Wallabies and are back on the social network shortly after full-time congratulating or commiserating with each other. It would be cute if they were seven-year-olds. Now it’s just disturbing.
* Click here to read Ryan Vrede’s thoughts on Luke Watson’s decision to move from Bath to the Kings.