Final whistle blows on a vintage year
December 22, 2008
Some of the faces of 2008 - (clockwise from top left) Danny Cipriani, Dan Carter, Lawrence Dallaglio and Jonny Wilkinson all have reason to remember the past 12 months
© Getty Images
With two Grand Slams, a host of thrilling finals and an unhealthy dose of controversy - it is safe to say that 2008 will go down in the history books as a memorable year for the sport.
As the year draws to a close we look back on some of the highs and lows of the last 12 months and some of our favourite sound bites.
New Zealand back on top of the world
It's not a Rugby World Cup year, so of course the All Blacks reign supreme. They have played 15 games since their painful RWC exit at the hands of France in Cardiff last year and lost just two matches to their southern hemisphere rivals South Africa and Australia. And their reward? Another Tri-Nations title, yet more Bledisloe Cup bragging rights and only their third-ever grand slam tour of the UK and Ireland. Oh - and they managed to rack up a century against Samoa along the way too.
"That's the sort of pass you give to someone who's just eaten your last Rolo."
Sky Sports commentator Mark Robson sympathises with Toulouse's Maxime Medard after he is cleaned out by Bath's Matt Banahan having taken a hospital pass, Oct 12, 2008
Welsh rollercoaster hits new heights
Few would have predicted such a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for Wales in 2008. This time last year everyone was putting the boot into the principality following their painful and embarrassing RWC pool stage exit. Just over a year later they stand proud as the northern hemisphere's standard bearers having conjured a Six Nations grand slam and taken the only southern hemisphere scalp of the year. If you want more evidence of Wales' new-found confidence look no further than their goose bump-inducing response to the haka ahead of their clash with the All Blacks last month. The stand-off will live long in the memory and would grace the highlights of any year.
England manager Martin Johnson passes judgement on his former England and Leicester team mate Austin Healey after watching him perform in the hit BBC TV series Strictly Come Dancing. Oct 3, 2008
Political spats blight the rugby landscape
Verbal sparring between the northern and southern hemispheres has historically always been part of the landscape and 2008 has been no different with the pros and cons of the Experimental Law Variations the subject of intense debate. And while there was peace in our time in the English game (for now) just across the Severn Bridge in Wales the regions made it quite clear they were willing to derail the latest national resurgence to get their way with the Welsh Rugby Union.
"I have many emotions about my time with England, but that's a story for another time. It's a closed chapter and I'm now looking forward to a new and very broad challenge here at the University of Bath."
Former England coach Brian Ashton after being named director of coaching for the University of Bath. Sep 16, 2008
England PR machine works overtime
England suffered on the front and back pages throughout 2008. The suits at Rugby House failed to cover themselves in glory with their handling of head coach Brian Ashton's eventual departure. Fresh from steering England to the Rugby World Cup Final and then second place in the 2008 Six Nations, Ashton was seemingly one of the last to know that his services were no longer required. There was also more woe for the RFU with tales of misconduct during the summer tour to New Zealand.
"I didn't know when we were going to get started to be honest."
New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw recalls the haka 'stand-off' ahead of his side's clash with Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Nov 22, 2008
Red army march on in Europe
OK, it may not have been a vintage contest but Munster's 16-13 Heineken Cup victory over Toulouse was still a fitting finale to the latest battle for European supremacy. Put 40,000 suitably refreshed and vociferous Munster fans in a magnificent arena like the Millennium Stadium, close the roof and treat them and 40,000 of their friends to 80 minutes of tension-filled drama and you have a guaranteed feast for the eyes an ears.
"They defend a lead like my mum pole vaults."
Former Wales skipper and now S4C pundit Gwyn Jones passes judgement on the Scarlets who wasted a 19-3 half-time lead in their Heineken Cup clash with Harlequins to eventually lose 29-22. Oct 16, 2008
Legend bows out in style
Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio brought the curtain down on his glittering playing career with a fairytale ending in the Premiership Final. Wasps battled past Leicester 26-16 in a pulsating clash in front of a record club crowd of 81,600 that produced an atmosphere to rival any this year. The victory saw Wasps complete a remarkable recovery having been bottom of the table a few short months before. Most notably the crowd rose as one to bid Dallaglio farewell as he bowed out of the game - a fitting sign of respect for one of English rugby's most respected servants.
"It is almost beyond comprehension that he then decided to penalise Vickery for the least of all of the acts of foul play."
His Honour Judge Jeff Blackett slams the conduct of Leicestershire official Martin Fox in the disciplinary report that saw Wasps' James Haskell handed a one-match ban. Sep 23, 2008
Crusaders crowned kings of Super Rugby - again
The Crusaders' dominance of southern hemisphere rugby continued in 2008 as they notched up their seventh title with victory over the Waratahs. It was a fitting send-off for coach Robbie Deans, the most successful coach in Super Rugby history, before he headed across the Tasman to begin work with the Wallabies. Good luck to Todd Blackadder and his assistants Mark Hammett and Daryl Gibson who have been charged with leading the Crusaders into a new era. But they can rest assured that they will still have the incomparable Richie McCaw in their ranks and the best player in the world (despite what the IRB and Shane Williams may think) will be on the rampage again throughout 2009.
"In recent times, an intriguing urban legend has arisen in Wales: 'every time Wales win the rugby grand slam, a Pope dies, except for 1978 when Wales were really good, and two Popes died.'"
Dr Payne, of University Hospital Wales, Cardiff, lays down a frankly bizarre theory of Papal vulnerability to Welsh rugby success. December 18, 2008
England no longer a goal for Wilko
This year has been an all too familiar tale of injury woe for England's golden boy Jonny Wilkinson. Elective surgery in the summer was set to get the fly-half's career back on track but injury struck again in October with a dislocated knee cap that has put his Six Nations and Lions hopes in jeopardy. How much can one man's body take? But Wilkinson himself is not troubled having found a new inner peace with Buddhism. And his popularity shows no signs of waning following a six-hour signing session at Twickenham for the launch of his latest book.
"The IRB has reviewed the report titled Putting Rugby First. The deeply flawed piece of work by anonymous authors clearly ignores the substantial development work done by the IRB and Member Unions over the past 10 years."
The IRB fights back following criticism in the independent Putting Rugby First report. Sep 19, 2008
New Zealand's Dan Carter and England's Danny Cipriani - two of the game's brightest talents - have hogged the headlines throughout the year. Carter underlined his status as the world's best fly-half with a series of assured displays for the Crusaders and All Blacks before venturing north to join Perpignan in France for a lucrative six-month sabbatical. Cipriani's year has included some breath-taking performances, the odd bit of controversy, an horrific injury and Lazarus-like return - oh, and the odd night out with a tabloid-friendly girlfriend. However, a quick Google-based test illustrates the fact that Cips has some way to go to match his Kiwi counterpart in the popularity stakes. The original DC returns 4,310,000 matches to Cipriani's 712,000.
"It has taken the gloss off my position. You just feel frustrated that the two sides can't get together and thrash it out. I might have to look at it if this carries on. I have already questioned my position at the moment."
Wales coach Warren Gatland nears breaking point as the latest Welsh politicial wrangle intensifies. Oct 21, 2008
Credit crunch continues to bite
Arguably the story of the year and no doubt next year too. The game is collectively tightening its belt and despite some high-profile new sponsorship deals at both club and international level the world is braced for more woe in 2009. The International Rugby Board reacted early to reports of impending doom by dropping the asking price for those wanting to host the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cup. There remains plenty of official interest but time will tell whether the financial pressures force a re-think from some countries before the IRB decide the destiny of the tournaments in July next year.