Prediction time for 2012
December 30, 2011
What will 2012 bring for Marc Lievremont, Graham Henry, Nick Mallett and Paddy O'Brien?
© Getty Images
With the imminent dawn of a New Year comes our traditional round of predictions for the 12 months ahead.
This time last year we predicted a magical year for the All Blacks, Six Nations glory for England and a lonely year for Danny Cipriani. Our crystal ball also tipped Wales for Rugby World Cup success - although they did it without the services of a certain Gavin Henson.
So, what does the rugby world hold for us all in 2012?
Lievremont tipped for Oscar success
Following the Oscar-laden success of The Artist, former France coach Marc Lievremont is recruited to star in the sequel - entitled The Coach. Producers feel his matinee idol looks make him a perfect lead for the 1940s-based rugby film, while Lievremont believes that the silent movie format is a perfect vehicle for him considering his players often pretended not to hear him. The film is also notable for a cameo by England international Nick Easter, as the pipe-chomping Jean Prat.
Wales claim Six Nations glory
Wales kick on from their outstanding Rugby World Cup campaign by claiming the Six Nations title. Defeat to a new-look England at Twickenham denies them the Grand Slam but Stuart Lancaster's team's shortcomings elsewhere enable Warren Gatland's side to wrap up the Championship by exacting revenge on France at the Millennium Stadium just a few short months after their agonising World Cup semi-final loss. Winger George North lights up the Championship stage despite his goose-step looking more like a cyclist searching for a wayward pedal.
Following a year blighted by high-profile errors from officials, the International Rugby Board (IRB) acts in an attempt to rid the game of such cock-ups. Referees boss Paddy O'Brien bows to public pressure and re-vamps the use of Television Match Officials, enabling them to interject at any point in the game should they see reason to do so. In a rare moment of free-thinking, the IRB also introduces a second referee into the equation for all Test matches to the delight of the rugby globe - sadly, the IRB's efforts to fix the scrum do not prove so successful.
McCaw takes sabbatical
All Blacks legend Richie McCaw exercises the sabbatical option on his latest New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) contract, but not in order to top up his pension with a sojourn in France. Instead, the accomplished pilot takes a year out from his stellar rugby career to indulge his other passion - flying. Unsurprisingly, the World Cup winning-flanker excels on his way to endurance flying and gliding records.
Pumas make Championship bow
Argentina make their long-awaited debut in the expanded Tri-Nations and while they finish the campaign winless, their efforts are hailed as a huge success. As expected, the Pumas' fans make a sizeable impression on the battle for the southern hemisphere crown, making a Championship clash in Argentina one of the must-do dates on the global rugby calendar - to rival the Hong Kong 7s.
Rebels rip it up on Super Rugby stage
The Melbourne Rebels turn the Super Rugby form book on its head by setting the standard in the Australian Conference. The addition of Wallabies James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale to the Melbourne mix proves key to their turnaround in fortunes, with resident fly-half Danny Cipriani rising to the challenge for his No.10 shirt.
Johnson pays the bills
Finding himself out of work and needing to pay the mortgage, former England boss Martin Johnson returns to the commercial arena and teams up with Greene King, the official beer of England rugby. The beetle-browed World Cup winner fronts the ad campaign for their latest brew under the tag line - "Rugby player drinks beer - shocker".
Gatland to give the Lions some bite
Wales boss Warren Gatland's reward for steering Wales to the Six Nations crown is another date with the British & Irish Lions. Having served under Lions stalwart Sir Ian McGeechan during the 2009 tour to South Africa, Gatland is handed the top job for the tour to Australia in 2013. The requirement to do the job full time sees Gatland use the option for a sabbatical in his Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) contract, with Shaun Edwards stepping into the void for the 2013 Six Nations.
Henry spills the beans
The newly-anointed Sir Graham Henry takes a break from his coach-for-hire globetrotting to publish his eagerly-awaited autobiography. The headline-grabbing tome pulls no punches, with insight into a colourful coaching career that included stints with Wales and the British & Irish Lions before taking on the All Blacks. The foreword is provided by former England and Lions international Austin Healey.
Straight-talking Mallett gets England on the straight and narrow
Nick Mallett finally agrees to take the England hotseat - thanks to an unprecedented pay packet - and he just has time to be fitted for his RFU blazer before boarding a plane to South Africa where he begins his tenure with a three-Test series against the Springboks. The former Boks and Italy coach wastes no time in laying down the law and while his fresh approach - with the players and the media - does not reap immediate reward, the signs are promising.
Put 'em up
The freshly-crowned New Zealand heavyweight champion, Sonny Bill Williams, set his sights on global domination and while his attempts to rile the Klitschko brothers fall on deaf ears he does land a showdown of sorts with Leicester's punch-happy centre Manu Tuilagi. A capacity crowd flock to Welford Road but are sent home unhappy with SBW claiming a stunning victory just two days before delivering another KO - this time to the Springboks in Soweto.
Saracens cement top spot
Saracens underline their status as English rugby's No.1 side by claiming the Aviva Premiership crown at Twickenham just a week after capturing Europe's biggest prize - the Heineken Cup - at the same venue. They may not produce rugby that is as easy on the eye as some of their rivals but they get the results when they matter.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter