The year was full of spectacular moments and performances as well as disappointing lows and infamous incidents; we name and shame the best and worst in our 2013 Awards.
New Zealand and Wales ruled their respective hemispheres for the second successive year, the All Blacks enjoying a flawless 2013 campaign.
The British and Irish Lions broke a 16-year drought with a 2-1 series win over the Wallabies Down Under and the Springboks celebrated their most successful season in recent times, winning 10 of their 12 Tests.
New stars emerged, veterans turned back the clock and records were broken. Farcical refereeing decisions marred some of the year’s most anticipated matches, while the Wallabies and ongoing European Cup saga provided controversy off the field.
Here then, are our big winners and losers of 2013:
Player of the Year: Kieran Read
The undisputed best in the world single-handedly raised the bar of what’s expected of an international eighthman in 2013. He’s the prototype of the perfect modern day No.8 – arguably the most well-rounded eighthman the world has ever seen and a game breaker of note. He’s equally adept on attack, defence, in the set pieces and in the air. Simply put, he owned 2013.
Forward of the Year: Kieran Read
Read had some stiff competition from the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Bismarck du Plessis, Michael Hooper, Liam Messam and Sergio Parisse, but the All Black No.8 reigned supreme as he boasts all the skills that make each of his closest rivals the stars they are.
Back of the Year: Ben Smith
Springbok and Wallaby rookies Willie le Roux and Israel Folau made a major impact in their debut international seasons and Leigh Halfpenny broke records en route to winning the British and Irish Lions Player of the Series, Six Nations Player of the Championship and Wales Sports Personality of the Year awards. However, none of them was as sublime as Smith, who carved up the world’s best defensive lines week-in and week-out, seemingly at will.
Young Player of the Year: Eben Etzebeth
The prodigious Springbok lock scoops our Young Player of the Year award for the second successive year. He showed no signs of the dreaded second season syndrome in 2013, enhancing his reputation as an undeniable force instead. At just 22 years of age, the sky’s the limit for this athletic gargantuan.
Team of the Year: New Zealand
The All Black vintage of 2013 earned the moniker “The Untouchables” as they romped to the first perfect season in the professional era. The Springboks, France and Ireland pushed them to the limit, but their class shone through time and time again. They are unquestionably the benchmark, only got better and celebrated four years at the summit of the IRB World Rankings in 2013.
Coach of the Year: Steve Hansen
While he had an overflowing talent pool at his disposal, Hansen had to strike a balance and manage his playing personnel wisely to ensure they don’t trip up through a marathon 14-Test season. Through his man-management – from sabbaticals and resting key players to integrating young talent – the All Black machine destroyed everything in its path. The absences of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw were hardly noticeable with New Zealand losing none of their trademark fluidity.
Match of the Year: South Africa v New Zealand at Ellis Park
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The year produced a number of instant classics – the nail-biting first Test between the Wallabies and the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks’ last-gasp win over Ireland in Dublin that made it 14 out of 14 for the New Zealanders. Yet, the clash of the year was the epic at Ellis Park, the Rugby Championship decider between the game’s greatest teams and rivals. New Zealand needed just a bonus point to retain the silverware, but a first victory over South Africa at the iconic venue since 1997 saw them throw everything at their old foe. After nine tries and 80 minutes of non-stop action, the All Blacks underlined their superiority and came away with a 38-27 win. It was rugby poetry in motion.
Try of the Year: Bryan Habana v New Zealand
It’s only fitting that the Match of the Year also produced the Try of the Year as South Africa’s all-time top try-scorer received a sensational offload from Francois Louw, chipped Ben Smith and regathered to score his second try of the match and make it back-to-back rugby365 Try of the Year awards.
Team Try of the Year: Beauden Barritt v France in Addington
The brilliance of the All Blacks was on full display when they manufactured a majestic length-of-the-field team try rounded off by replacement Barritt under the posts.
Disappointment of the Year: James O’Connor
The Pumas were a major letdown, as was the sub-standard Northern Hemisphere pitches, but O’Connor’s spectacular fall from grace and wasting of his talent ‘won’ him the award. A slew of off-field controversies including a drunken incident in which he was removed from Perth Airport by Australian Federal Police saw O’Connor get the boot from the Wallabies and the Melbourne Rebels and sent the 23-year-old packing for Europe, where he linked up with London Irish.
Hero of the Year: Jean de Villiers
The talismanic Springbok captain put his body on the line for his country and led by example as he took the fight to the opposition. He epitomised the heart of a champion and the will and desire to win and showed dogged determination all year, highlighted by his fantastic try in the Ellis Park epic when he steamrolled Beauden Barritt.
Villain of the Year: Jim Hamilton
There was no shortage of contenders in this category with All Black serial offender Ma’a Nonu and Samoa fullback James So’oialo, who despicably grabbed the testicles of Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss at Loftus Versfeld, right up there. However, Hamilton’s blatant malice and persistent intent to injure made him the most infamous thug of 2013.
Comeback of the Year: Schalk Burger
Quade Cooper’s return to prominence in the Wallaby jersey was commendable. Japan-based duo Fourie du Preez and George Smith’s comebacks for the Springboks and Wallabies respectively were remarkable. Juan Smith’s unlikely return – for French club Toulon – from persistent Achilles tendon issues after he had announced his retirement earlier in the year was inspiration. Burger’s comeback for Western Province and his excellent performance for the Barbarians against Fiji borders on miraculous, the Springbok great having overcome a knee injury sustained in the opening game of the 2012 Super Rugby season, a calf problem at the start of 2013, surgery on a cyst on his spine and bacterial meningitis that saw him spend six weeks in the hospital and another eight weeks indoors – all over the course of 18 months.
Moment of the Year: Bismarck du Plessis’ tackle on Dan Carter
In the most controversial on-field incident of the year, Du Plessis flattens Carter with a classic, bone-crushing hit. Despite it being a perfectly legal tackle, French referee Romain Poite sends the Springbok hooker off and ruins one of the most anticipated Tests of 2013.
Best Refereeing Performance of the Year: Nigel Owens: South Africa v New Zealand at Ellis Park
In stark contrast to Romain Poite’s shocking performance in the superpowers’ first meeting of the year, Welsh referee Owens allows the match to flow and contributes to a classic in no uncertain terms.
Straight Shooter of the Year: Nick Mallett
The former Springbok and Italy coach didn’t pull any punches and said it as it was in his role of analyst on South African TV, condemning incompetent match officials and underperforming teams, players and coaches.
Is it over yet: European saga
The row over the future of the European Cup continued throughout all of 2013 with no clear-cut solution in sight.