And the award goes to...
December 2, 2010
Richie McCaw celebrates after bursting the Springboks' bubble © Getty Images
The Test season is over, with only another big day out for the Barbarians remaining in 2010. The IRB have named All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw as the best player in the world (again) and in the spirit of giving, Scrum Sevens has some awards of its own to dish out.
Try of the Year: Israel Dagg, New Zealand 31-17 South Africa, Wellington, July 17
Ah, the joy of impetuous youth. Barely two minutes after being introduced as a replacement for Rene Ranger as the All Blacks steamrollered the Springboks at Westpac Stadium, Dagg goose-stepped his way between two of the world's best back-row operators, take a bow Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies, rode Gio Aplon's lunge and stepped past a stunned Zane Kirchner to score in the corner. He then got levelled by Richie McCaw for his trouble.
And before the Twickenham faithful suit up to invade Scrum towers - Chris Ashton's try is coming later.
If a moment could encapsulate a year. Botha's mindless assault on Jimmy Cowan and subsequent nine-week ban kicked off a miserable Tri-Nations for South Africa. They went on to finish rock bottom in their worst performance in the tournament's history, with Botha's ban creating not only a media stir but also condemnation from his team-mates, including skipper John Smit. He returned for their November tour and reminded us all exactly how physical and effective a second-row he can be - too little, too late for 2010 though and he will want to make a big impression in the forthcoming Super Rugby season.
Collapse of the Year: France 16-59 Australia, Paris, November 27
The mother of all second-half capitulations. After Morgan Parra slotted a penalty to give the home side the lead at 16-13, they promptly shipped 46 unanswered points to sink to a record defeat that somehow eclipsed their Marseille hammering at the hands of the All Blacks in the embarrassment stakes. News of the result was almost invariably greeted by a Gallic shrug and a mumbled talk of French unpredictability, although others eulogised about another breakneck display from the Wallabies. Whatever the excuse, this was not good enough from a side trumpeted as genuine contenders for the World Cup in nine months' time. And now having leaked 40+ points in three of their last five outings there is evidently work to do if they are to live up to that billing.
Party-pooper of the Year: Richie McCaw, South Africa 22-29 New Zealand, Soweto, August 21, 2010
The stage was set, the stars were aligned. John Smit was winning his 100th cap for South Africa, there was a record attendance for a Springbok fixture, the All Blacks were in town and revenge was the order of the day. The Springboks produced a greatly improved performance from the opening weeks of the Tri-Nations and their heavyweight pack looked all set to haul them over the line. With 77 minutes gone and the Boks up 22-17, up pops McCaw to crash over in the corner despite the attentions of Spies, Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers. Dan Carter missed the conversion but more was to come from the All Blacks skipper, whose turnover seconds later allowed Ma'a Nonu to brush of a Smit tackle and set Dagg on his way to the winner. An amazing three minutes from the best player on the planet.
It's hard to believe that this performance came in the same calendar year as England's stodge-fests against Italy and Scotland in the Six Nations. There were glimpses of a more expansive game from England on tour to Australia in June but an 80-minute performance of pace and power had been lacking until their youngsters smashed the Wallabies on home soil. Endless replays of Ashton's try have followed, it's almost as if some people want to rob it of its excitement, but the interplay between Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes and Ashton, who at the end of November had 22 Test caps between them, was stunning. The finish wasn't bad either and finally announced England not as world beaters but a team with the will to play, something that has been missing for too long.
The Year's biggest thriller: Wales 31-24 Scotland, Cardiff, February 13
Shane Williams' try brought delirium to the Millennium Stadium and ended a Test match that possessed all the twists and turns the neutral could want. For those inside the ground it was a more difficult watch, with Scotland storming into a deserved lead thanks to tries from John Barclay and Max Evans. The home side were 10 points down with four minutes remaining before Leigh Halfpenny's try and five points from Stephen Jones levelled it up. Williams, who does have a penchant for the unpredictable, crashed across the Scottish line after almost 82 minutes to win it - the wounded visitors down to 13 men after Scott Lawson and Phil Godman were sin-binned with under seven minutes to go. Crazy business.
Kick of the Year: Kurtley Beale, South Africa 39-41 Australia, Bloemfontein, September 4, 2010
The moment that a number of Australia's young guns came of age, Beale's 55-metre penalty to beat the Boks with the last kick of the game proved that Robbie Deans' men had the intestinal fortitude to win on the big stage. The preceding 80 minutes of play constitutes a bona-fide classic Test match, with the Wallabies racking up 31 points before the break before South Africa's amazing physicality and sheer bloody mindedness dragged them into a winning position - the teams trading eight tries before the boot took over in the dying moments. Morne Steyn's 75th minute penalty was all set to be the winner until Flip van der Merwe strayed to allow Beale his chance. He took it and the rugby world seemed to sit back and take stock - these kids can play.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton