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Greg Growden
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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
The Growdies
Greg Growden presents Super Rugby awards
Greg Growden
August 6, 2013
Greg Growden names his Super Rugby 2013 award winners. Tweet your own award winners to @GregGrowden using the hashtag #TheGrowdies
Greg Growden names his Super Rugby 2013 award winners. Tweet your own award winners to @GregGrowden using the hashtag #TheGrowdies © Getty Images
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Super Rugby 2013 provided fascinating newslines, and no lack of action, throughout, from the moment Melbourne Rebels hosted Western Force hosted a surprisingly entertaining fixture to open the championship all the way through to the Chiefs' victory over the Brumbies in the title game.

Greg Growden presents the inaugural ESPNscrum Super Rugby awards - The Growdies - to recall the good, the bad and the ugly from season 2013.

Player of the year: A toss-up between Aaron Cruden and Ben Smith. Cruden did not have the perfect Super Rugby final, but he was outstanding in the lead-up and was crucial to the Chiefs' success. Smith excelled in an under-performing team. As for the Super Rugby punctuation mark - otherwise known as the Wallabies-British & Irish Lions Test series - there is one clear standout: Leigh Halfpenny.

Australian player of the year: Candidates: Ben Mowen, George Smith, Christian Leali'ifano, Scott Fardy, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson, Scott Higginbotham, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia, Israel Folau. Winner: George Smith. Runner-up: Ben Mowen.

Most promising Australian player: Kyle Godwin. Honourable mentions: Scott Sio, Cam Crawford, Will Skelton

Saddest Super Rugby loss: Scott Higginbotham. After being a standout for Melbourne Rebels, his injury was badly timed as he would have made an enormous impact during the Lions series.

Coach of the year: Dave Rennie. A fair effort to enjoy back-to-back Super Rugby title wins. But, still, the overall standout coach of the season has to be Warren Gatland. The good coaches make the courageous calls, and Gatland's omission of Brian O'Driscoll from the final Lions-Wallabies Test was a big call. More importantly, it was the right decision, and the Lions got their midfield right in Sydney - ensuring an easy victory. Gatland was widely castigated In the days after dropping O'Driscoll, to the extent that he contemplated resigning, but the third Test triumph proved Gatland was right.


Discuss the awards, and give out your own gongs, by leaving a comment at the foot of the page or by tweeting Greg Growden using the hashtag #TheGrowdies.


Most boring saga: Is Israel Folau going to re-sign with the Wallabies?

The Rebels' Jason Woodward wears his mouthguard on his left ear, Melbourne Rebels v British & Irish Lions, AAMI Park, Melbourne, June 25, 2013
Jason Woodward was a part of a strange rugby fashion trend © Getty Images
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Weirdest fashion statement: Why are players now deciding to use their ears as a parking spot for their mouthguards? Wot's doing?

The biggest morale boost of the season: Unlike previous seasons, New South Wales Waratahs fans didn't boo their team off the field.

Worst idea during the Super Rugby season: The Australian Rugby Union's push to have a B-competition as a curtain raiser to Super Rugby matches next year, involving revamped rules. Will crowds flock to watch this? I think not. As for television interest; can't see this being a massive ratings booster. Put it in the test pattern category.

Best game: Chiefs-Crusaders semi-final. Easily the best rugby advertisement of 2013. Rugby as it should be played.

Worst game: There were some Super Rugby shockers, most around 3am (EST) when you accidentally switched onto a Southern Kings game while you were looking for a fruity foreign movie; but nothing was as bad as the British & Irish Lions' tour opener against a listless Barbarians rabble in Hong Kong. The wisecracking NSW Horrotahs twitter account summed it up best:

Best quote: "Them flick passes aren't really in our abattoir" - Kurtley Beale.

Runner up: "I've been a life member of the Waratahs for a long time. I was sitting out there at that game against the Cheetahs with my three boys next to me. And our crowd is booing the team. My kids are looking at me and saying: 'Do we have to come next week?'." - Bill Pulver on watching the 2012 Waratahs. The 2013 Waratahs were markedly better.

Third prize goes to the Brumbies player who moaned in May: "One ---ing month without a break from each other. What is this? Robben Island?" - Let's just say Brumbies coach Jake White knows a thing or two about control.

The most devastating quote: "As long as my backside is pointing to the ground, Ewen McKenzie will not coach Australia. You cannot have a front-row forward in charge of the Wallabies because they know nothing about backline play." - A senior and influential ARU official early in the year (as revealed exclusively by ESPNscrum. Thankfully others on the ARU board saw sense and appointed McKenzie. We hear the board member who made the quote, whose backside has clearly changed direction, is still not ecstatic that "Link" is in charge.

Wallabies flanker George Smith is helped from the field, Australia v British & Irish Lions, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, July 6, 2013
George Smith's Test farewell was an anti-climax © Getty Images
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Saddest sight of the season: George Smith being helped off during the final Lions Test after a major head knock, after successfully transforming the Brumbies with efforts that led to his Test return; even worse was seeing him being allowed back onto the field about five minutes later, when it was blatantly clear he was suffering from concussion. In recent times, numerous international teams have become overly lenient with concussed players. The ramifications are overwhelming, and it is time the International Rugby Board got serious about this issue. Winning is one thing, but a player's welfare must always be placed on a higher pedestal.

The death-or-glory selection of the season (AKA the biggest selection bungle): Super Rugby coaches can breathe easy. Robbie Deans came right over the top by selecting James O'Connor at No.10 for the three Wallabies-Lions Tests. Quade Cooper was never a chance of being picked in a Deans Test team again after describing the Wallabies' environment as "toxic". Deans prefers true believers, and instead went for O'Connor as playmaker despite the player's inexperience at No.10 at Test level. Apart from a few glowing moments, O'Connor was still a flop: he was poor in the first Test, and Deans could have moved him; instead, Deans' stubbornness came to the fore - and it just added to the reasons why he was ousted by the ARU following the Lions Test series.

Biggest Super Rugby brain snap: The Bulls changing their tactics in the Brumbies semi-final, and believing rolling mauls not penalty goal kicks would win them the game in the final minutes. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Bulls captain Dewald "Pumpkinhead" Potgieter simply lost the plot.

Biggest sledge: When James O'Connor approached the Waratahs to see if they were interested in him for next year, he was told: "Come back when you grow up."

Most embarrassing photo: The bro snap of people who looked suspiciously like Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper and co frolicking in a Melbourne apartment-top pool. Oh no! © Twitter
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Most embarrassing follow-up: Ioane failing to show at a Melbourne court appearance.

Most fascinating reading: Digby Ioane's tweets. What does it all mean? Subtitles required.

Biggest give-up: James O'Connor not wanted by numerous Australian provinces. And he is the Wallabies' incumbent Test No.10.

Biggest intellectual challenge: The Fox Sports team trying to get a coherent comment out of a player when they interview them at the half-time break. (Are you listening, Digby ... )

 
Who is the British journo on the Lions tour who started arguing with what he believed was a person in the main street of Perth? (The person was actually a statue.)
 

Second biggest intellectual challenge: The players actually attempting to speak a proper sentence, without splattering the interviewer with spittle. Again subtitles (and windscreen wipers) are required.

Most invigorating TV: Watching Michael Cheika revving up the Waratahs in the dressing room.

Best straight shooter: Michael Cheika

Best food: According to our men who had their heads in the trough, the media spread before the first Test in Brisbane was an absolute cracker. Our loyal snout Wristy Le Roux said: "The selection of pies, sausage rolls and sandwiches on offer were cordon bleerrrrrr." And our media men in Canberra continue to say the pies on offer there expired in 1999 and the sausage rolls should be used by the Australian cricket team as bats.

The rugby fight we all wanted to see: The argy-bargy on the Rebels team bus when they were in Durban, which saw Kurtley Beale, Cooper Vuna and Gareth Delve involved in a scuffle. Vuna and Beale were then sent home.

Best tired-and-emotional performance: The one-time Waratahs heavy who was accused in a succession of weeks of: stealing a bottle of wine off another table at a club function; crashing out of the toilet in the middle of a Warren Gatland speech; and finally requiring attention at a club game after stumbling down the grandstand stairs. He's now known as "Bubbles".

Best tired-and-emotional performance by a member of the media: The British journo on the Lions tour who started arguing with what he believed was a person in the main street of Perth; the person was actually a statue.

I wish I hadn't made that decision: Michael Foley's decision to rest players from the Lions match prompted a wave of criticism, especially from the British media, who were close to demanding a public stoning of the Force coach. Many at the Force weren't too happy, either.

Morne Steyn and Simon Cowell © Getty Images
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Best rugby lookalikes training squad: ARU boss Bill Pulver and Cam from Modern Family

Michael Cheika and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Benn Robinson and Kyle Sandilands

Richard Hibbard and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine

Matt Lucas and Dennis the Menace

James O'Connor and Justin Bieber

Inside Rugby editor Mark Cashman and Barry "The Cougar" Dawson

Michael Foley and Elliott Goblet

Jeremy Tilse and Sylvester Stallone

Sam Wykes and Ziggy Marley

Steve Hansen and Jack Nicholson when he played the Joker in Batman

Nic White and Moe Szyslak from The Simpsons

Zane Kirchner and Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons

Bob Dwyer and Ned Flanders from The Simpsons

Ewen McKenzie and Ewen McKenzie

Mark Ella and Glen Ella

Sam Warburton and Buzz Lightyear

Greg Growden and The Elephant Man

... enough, enough, enough already - Editor


Discuss the awards, and give out your own gongs, by leaving a comment at the foot of the page or by tweeting Greg Growden using the hashtag #TheGrowdies.


The Chiefs rounded out the Super Rugby season with a celebratory haka © Getty Images
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