Prediction time for 2013
December 31, 2012
What will 2013 bring for Joe Launchbury, Jonny Wilkinson, Brett Gosper and the Heineken Cup
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Another New Year is almost upon us and so it is time for us to dust off the ESPNscrum crystal ball for our traditional round of predictions for the 12 months ahead.
We set about the task with renewed relish having been scarily accurate this time last year. We successfully predicted Wales' Six Nations success, Warren Gatland's appointment as Lions boss, some headline-grabbing claims in Graham Henry's autobiography, a re-vamp of the Television Match Official powers, an eye-catching Rugby Championship bow for Argentina and All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw's decision to activate the sabbatical clause in his contract this time last year.
However, we also thought Nick Mallett would get the England job, the Melbourne Rebels would rip it up on the Super Rugby stage and Saracens would claim the Premiership crown so we clearly have some work to do.
So, what does the rugby world hold for us all in 2013?
Olympics blueprint blooper
England Rugby 2015's bid to replicate the successful staging of the London 2012 Olympics leads to confusion when the venues for the sport's showpiece event are finally revealed. As expected, Twickenham plays host to the tournament finale and the Olympic Stadium gets the nod for a quarter-final but Horse Guards Parade is also awarded one of the semi-finals - that as a result will be played on a makeshift beach - and Lords Cricket Ground is handed a pool clash sparking renewed fears for the state of the revered playing surface.
England claim Six Nations title
England build on their stunning victory over the All Blacks at the end of 2012 by powering to the Six Nations title. The victory over the world champions and a schedule offering three games at home saw Stuart Lancaster's side enter the battle for northern hemisphere supremacy as favourites and they deliver on that promise with a hard-fought win in Dublin lifting hopes of a Grand Slam that is sealed with a commanding victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in their final outing. At the other end of the table there is no end to Scotland's woe when another win-less campaign brings another wooden spoon.
The SBW show rolls on
Sonny Bill Williams returns to the rugby league stage in the Sydney Roosters' NRL season-opener against the Rabbitohs. He celebrates the start of the latest chapter in his headline-grabbing career by fielding questions post-game about a possible return to rugby union. The dual-code international is plagued by similar inquiries for the duration of his one-year deal and confirms he will return to the Super Rugby side the Chiefs in 2014 after playing for New Zealand at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup in England.
Lions look to England
England dominate the British & Irish Lions squad following their Six Nations success with lock Joe Launchbury completing an epic rise from talented youngster to the top of the international game in less than a year. He is joined by the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Danny Care, Chris Robshaw, Geoff Parling and Dan Cole. Fly-half Toby Flood also gets the nod as coach Warren Gatland opts against selecting in-form club players such as Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson and Saracens' Charlie Hodgson. Veteran Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll is named the squad captain but captaincy for the Test series falls to Wales' Sam Warburton.
Heineken Cup refreshes Euro row
The row over the future of the Heineken Cup rumbles on with neither side apparently willing to give any ground. But following an epic Heineken Cup final showdown between Toulon and Ulster in Dublin - a game to rival any of the fine title-deciders to have preceded it - the warring parties realise they have seriously erred by jeopardising the biggest jewel in the European club rugby crown. The English and French clubs get their way when it comes to the PRO12 clubs having to qualify on merit but Premiership chiefs are forced to shred the euro aspect of their big money broadcast deal with BT Vision. In true Hollywood style, the big screen at the Aviva Stadium shows Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty tearing up the agreement.
No place like home for Sarries
Saracens fail to find their feet on the plastic pitch at their new Allianz Stadium home and as a result the latest injury audit by Rugby Football Unions medical chiefs highlights an alarming increase in burns. In a bid to lift spirits and using the money they subsequently saved in ground-keeping staff, Sarries opt to hit the road again and line up fixtures in Cape Town, New York, Hong Kong and a return to Bedford.
Sevens serves up a treat
The countdown to rugby's return to the Olympics continues with the last-ever staging of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Russia. The lure of possible Olympic gold medal glory is evident with a host of nations building on their eye-catching performances on the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit by challenging for the World Cup crown. The likes of France, Argentina, Portugal and the USA offer evidence of the benefits of Olympic funding by upstaging the usual Sevens powerhouses of New Zealand, Fiji, England and South Africa with speedster Carlin Isles blazing a trail throughout.
'Ref cam' a revelation
After some nausea-inducing teething problems, 'Ref cam' is hailed as a success and is pounced upon by Premiership Rugby who promise to offer armchair fans an exclusive insight into the trials and tribulations of the country's leading officials. So successful is the innovation - it spawns a reality show spin-off series following the lives of house-mates Wayne Barnes, Andrew Small, JP Doyle and Dave Pearson.
Wallabies claim series victory over Lions
A lack of preparation, an energy-sapping schedule and a catalogue of injuries conspire to deny the British & Irish Lions a series victory over Australia. The Lions defy the odds to claim a narrow victory in the first Test in Brisbane but in a worrying repeat of the 2001 tour, a long hard season begins to catch up on the elite tourists and a narrow defeat in the second sold-out clash in Melbourne is followed by another in the series decider in Sydney. The agonising loss sees renewed calls for the Home Nations to do more to give the Lions a better chance of success and cementing their place as a major draw card for the sport as a whole.
Gosper insists it is good to talk
IRB chief executive Brett Gosper shrugs off the flak that came his way in 2012 by stepping up his social networking efforts. Slammed for engaging in a debate with fans and journalists alike on Twitter since his appointment, the former advertising executive vows to remain accessible to all as part of his continued efforts to sell the game into new territories and build on existing markets.
Pumas pack a punch
Argentina build on their impressive debut in The Rugby Championship by notching not just their first victory in the battle for southern hemisphere supremacy but also a second. That historic first success comes against South Africa with Australia also put to the sword but there is not joy against New Zealand who wrap up another title in style.
WRU's generosity knows no bounds
As the Rugby Football Union reveal plans to re-vamp Twickenham ahead of its central role at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis offers to host England's Six Nations clashes, end of year internationals and the Aviva Premiership finale at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium as 'a favour'.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter