Only by a matter of weeks, but the southern hemisphere international rugby season is done for 2020, wrapping up a season that we were incredibly lucky to see at all, given how much rugby – and sport in general – was lost to the global pandemic this year.
And with a jolly a red fellow now cleared to land in our part of the world, the timing feels right to hand out some gongs, as a way of wrapping up and putting a bow on the rugby year.
Therefore, without further ado, here are The Roar’s Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations awards for the year.
We’ll start with an easy one, with the Pumas’ win over New Zealand in Western Sydney comfortably the moment of the international year.
After everything the Argentinean squad went through just to get to Australia for the Tri-Nations, it wasn’t hard to see why every player, coach, and staff member was so emotional at fulltime. They came together from all parts of the world, and went from one camp to the next over the course of several months.
More than a dozen of the players, as well as coach Mario Ledesma, contracted COVID-19 along the way.
They landed in Australia and looked a bit scratchy in their warm-up games. They looked like a squad comprising a large number of guys who hadn’t played rugby for six months.
And then they came out and beat a team they’d never beaten before.
Honoruable mentions: That finish to Bledisloe 1; Australia’s first win under Dave Rennie; the Wallabies and Olivia Fox singing the National Anthem in Eora.
Ledesma, for the extraordinary effort required in pulling together the above-mentioned squad from all parts of the world.
He got them on coaching programs, he then got them to stick to those programs in isolation, and he kept them committed the whole way through, even as the virus infected the squad.
The vision of him taking a moment in the coaches box at Bankwest Stadium as the reality of the win over the All Blacks hit him will be one of the enduring images of the rugby year.
Honourable mentions: To avoid this turning into a participation award, we’ll leave the honourable mentions given there were only two other guys in the running.
Named after the great man whose effort was somehow overlooked for World Rugby’s try of the decade, this one will evoke some debate for sure. We’ve decided to go for Richie Mo’unga’s chase, regather and run from beyond halfway, following through on Beauden Barrett’s deft chip kick against Australia in Sydney.
But the honourable mentions field for this category is full of great tries too, namely:
This one goes to All Blacks coach Ian Foster, for moving the angst of Australian fans about their old coach to New Zealand fans about their new coach. This seems fair, after all these years.
Reece Hodge’s would-be Wellington match-winner hadn’t even come to ground off the upright when the calls for Foster’s head began, and even as recently as last week, comments along the lines of “hopefully next year we’ll have a new coach” were still being posted by All Blacks supporters.
Wallabies fans, generally speaking, are pretty happy with their new coach, but they feel your pain, Kiwis.
Honourable mentions: Lachie Swinton getting himself sent off so soon after Ofa Tuungafasi had been red-carded in Bledisloe 4; Sam Cane and the All Blacks’ classy presentations to Michael Hooper and James Slipper after their 100th Tests.
It’s only fitting that in a week when one of the most iconically loquacious whistleblowers hung up his whistle, we hand out an award for referee-player interactions. Pablo Matera takes this one out by some margin. His exchange with Australian referee Angus Gardner early on in the All Blacks match at Bankwest is worth revisiting.
Gardner: “What we need to see is some leadership from you, okay? What we don’t need you to do is come and push players after the whistle, okay?”
Matera: “I can see one of their guys hitting the face of one of my men. There’s no respect. I’m playing for my country, and there’s no respect.”
So good was it that the wheels are already in motion to rename this award, the “Pablo Matera Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Referee Communications Excellence.”
Honourable mentions: With Nic White tending to employ more of a quantity over quality approach to chatting with the ref, no one else even comes close.
Poor old Reece Hodge. He actually kicked at goal quite well in 2020, and particularly when by default he became the Wallabies’ first-choice kicker.
But all anyone will remember about his goal-kicking this season will be the three missed opportunities to win what would finish as drawn games. One even cannoned into the upright so hard, it wobbled for the rest of the game. Mere details.
He’ll be back though, and we can’t wait to see everyone get around him when he nails a match-winner.
We’ve picked an easy one to finish: in 35 minutes, Wallabies and Waratahs backrower Lachie Swinton carried hard, smashed into blokes, caused all kinds of general carnage, and was promptly sent off.
The risk of a player who often ‘sails close to the wind’ is they often sail past the line of legality, too.
But Wallabies coach Dave Rennie saw enough in those 35 minutes to suggest that Swinton has a very productive Test career ahead of him, despite the amount of wind in his sail at times.
Honourable mentions: Alex Hodgman; Filipo Daugunu; Angus Bell
We’ve got the ball rolling, but what we know about handing out awards is that new categories always emerge.
No doubt there will be thoughts on the awards we have handed out, too.
What do you think? Who deserves a brickbat or a bouquet after this international season?