What a sporting year 2012 has been! The Olympics, the Paralympics, Andy Murray winning the US Open, Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, the most exciting F1 season in recent memory, the ‘Miracle in Medinah’ from Europe’s Ryder Cup team, Rory McIlroy winning the USPGA, Manchester City winning the Premier League in the dying seconds, Chelsea winning the Champions League, England winning a Test series in India and much, much more.

For rugby 2012 was always expected to be a bit of a fallow year, falling between the World Cup of 2011 and the Lions tour of 2013, overshadowed by the extraordinary events across the rest of the sporting world.

Not a bit of it. Before we even get into the on stuff, off the field 2012 was one of the most significant years in rugby’s recent history. Sevens were introduced to the Olympic Games roster for the 2016 Games in Rio, the IRB and member nations have been overwhelmingly supportive – a positive step.

Even more significantly, SANZAR finally opened the doors of the Tri Nations to Argentina, creating the inaugural Rugby Championship. Argentina may not have won any matches but their competitiveness throughout made a mockery of suggestions that they did not deserve to be there. Take a bow Agustin Pichot.

It was a year for the smaller nations really, particularly the recent Autumn Internationals were Samoa beat Wales and Scotland lost to Tonga. These ‘Tier 2’ nations can be cast aside as mere sideshows no more.

If 2012 was about anything though; it was about good rugby winning out of the dull and mindless kicking and defensive games of recent years. In Harlequins, Leinster, The Chiefs, The Ospreys, Wales and New Zealand the teams with a commitment to the best (at least in this writers opinion) brand of rugby won each of their respective competitions.

2012 Roll of Honour:

Six Nations – Wales

Rugby Championship – New Zealand

Heineken Cup – Leinster

Super 15 – Waikato Chiefs

Aviva Premiership – Harlequins

Pro 12 – The Ospreys

2012 Rugby Awards:

Team of the Year:

A tough award, in a year of stunning performances throughout many teams could have claimed this but two sides have particularly stood out; Leinster and New Zealand.

Leinster won their third Heineken Cup in four years with a simply stunning run in the Heineken Rugby. Their commitment to move the ball with their try hungry style of play was simply outstanding, while they can grind it out with the best of them if they have to.

The All Blacks though were on another level altogether. The World Champions have defied conventional wisdom by stepping up their game since the World Cup, their first tests of the year came in a three Test series against Ireland. They won 3-0, inflicting a 60-0 defeat in the process.

They then swept to an unbeaten Rugby Championship in style before suffering their first non-victory in 17 tests when they drew with Australia. It was then onto the Autumn Internationals where they simply waltzed past their opposition before suddenly, shockingly, losing dramatically to England.

Regardless though, the All Blacks have been brilliant and are the standard bearers for the entire rugby world.

Player of the Year:

In England 2012 was the year of Chris Robshaw, he led Harlequins to Premiership glory and was named England captain with just one cap to his name. He became the talisman for Stuart Lancaster’s new regime, inspiring those around him to hitherto unknown levels of commitment and drive.

The undoubted man of the tournament, Dan Lydiate, inspired Wales’ Six Nations Grand Slam. His superb low tackling technique demonstrating that the priority in defence remains as ever to get the ball player on the floor.

The All Blacks as ever could provide just about an entire team of top players, but once again it was Dan Carter and Richie McCaw who stood out, you only had to watch Carter against Scotland to see how special he is while McCaw simply continues to play the laws of the game better than anyone else.

There is one player though who has stood out above all others, redefining leadership on a rugby field through his sheer ability to do everything all the time and to do it better than anyone else.

Argentina’s Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is our Player of the Season; he is Argentina’s inspiration, leading them marvellously in their first appearance in the Rugby Championship.

Newcomer of the Year:

Tim Visser made an immediate impact for Scotland, scoring on his debut and again twice against New Zealand. The giant Dutchman looks like the answer to Scotland’s try scoring woes.

Ireland look to have discovered a gem in Craig Gilroy, his scintillating performances against Fiji and Argentina were outstanding and he looks a real star of the future.

The big rising star of 2012 though was Wesley Fofana, his try scoring exploits for Clermont and France have been quite simply sensational and he is a deserving winner of our newcomer of the year award.

Coach of the Year:

Stuart Lancaster has done a lot of good for England following the dismissal of Martin Johnson at the end of 2011, while Andy Farrell has risen through the ranks to become one of his most trusted lieutenants, earning himself a Lions call.

Warren Gatland led Wales to a second Grand Slam of his tenure and will lead the Lions to Australia in 2013, cementing his place as one of the top coaches on the planet.

Steve Hansen has filled Graham Henry’s shoes with New Zealand with absolute aplomb, making a mockery of those who said he was not up to it.

The coach of 2012 though in our opinion is Leinster’s Joe Schmidt. Two Heineken Cup wins in a row, two Pro 12 finals in a row, the man has led Leinster to unprecedented success, all the while playing a brand of rugby that excites fans across the globe. The Lions will miss him.

Rugby Moment of the Year:

So many to choose from, this is one of the toughest categories. From Shane Williams’ try for the Ospreys in the Pro 12 final, through George North barging through the Irish midfield to Greig Laidlaw landing that penalty for Scotland to beat Australia in a rain soaked Newcastle.

We had Richie Gray’s show and go against Ireland, Brian O’Driscoll returning from victory to lead Leinster to Heineken Cup glory and Michael Hooper showing against England that David Pocock is not the only number 7 in Australia.

The Rugby moment of 2012 though has to be the few seconds after Manu Tuilagi intercepted the ball for England against New Zealand. A hush fell over Twickenham as 80,000 people fell into disbelief, followed by a huge roar as they realised it was real and Tuilagi was away.

2013 Predictions:

Six Nations – France

Rugby Championship – New Zealand

Heineken Cup – Clermont Auvergne

Super 15 – Waikato Chiefs

Aviva Premiership – Harlequins

Pro 12 – Ulster

Top 14 – Toulon

Lions Tour – British and Irish Lions: 2-1

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