The Best of the Best of Rugby in 2012
A Post-World Cup year is always a time of change in rugby. After the glitz and glamour of its most celebrated tournament, the world becomes grounded as the sport sets off once again on its next four-year cycle.
There are plenty who despise of this mentality, including yours truly. But it is the way of the world in this era of professional sports.
Nevertheless, 2012 has been a season to remember. Plenty of good rugby was played as a new bunch of youngsters strutted their stuff alongside the stars of the game in the first steps towards World Cup glory in 2015.
This article looks at the very best of the year. The best players, teams, coaches, tries, hits and so much more.
Hit of the Year: Motu Matu'u
Like always, there were plenty of huge hits in 2012.
The Hurricanes' Motu Matu'u takes the cake with his two-minute sequence against the Melbourne Rebels in the Super 15, though.
The first hit on Mark Gerrard is fairly vicious, but keep watching for the second one on Lachlan Mitchell, which was absolutely brutal.
Try of the Year: Liam Messam vs. Wales
There were plenty to choose from here: New Zealand's Hosea Gear rampaging down the sideline against Ireland, Bryan Habana in a moment of brilliance in Dunedin and George Pisi's Samoa match-winner against Wales were memorable, to say the least.
And the list could go on and on.
The All Blacks effort against Wales was the pick of them, though. This video shows the way the All Blacks can turn defence into attack at the drop of a penny, as well as the brilliant handling and unmatched attacking flair they possess.
Israel Dagg shows his class in the initial break, while Julian Savea displays brilliant hands and his strength running. Aaron Cruden tidies up well, but from then on it's just a case of manipulating the numbers for Liam Messam to score in the corner.
Up-and-Comer of the Year: Siya Kolisi
The term up-and-comer can mean different things, depending on how you interpret it. This was what made it hard to determine who was and who wasn't eligible for this award.
In the end, it was decided that a player who hasn't yet played international rugby should be given the award.
Again, there were plenty of players to choose from, all at different stages of their development.
Charles Piutau makes a good case, as he was dangerous every time he touched the ball and will be a major part of the Blues in 2013. Johnny McNicoll, too, was outstanding, and it wouldn't be far-fetched to predict he could pull on the All Black jersey some time over the next four or five years.
A bunch of high school players also put their hands up, with TJ Faiane and Nelson Asofa-Solomona the pick of the group.
But the award had to go to Siya Kolisi, the Stormers loose forward who was a tower of strength all season. That he didn't make the Springboks was rather unbelievable, but you can be assured it won't be long until he is pulling on the green and gold jersey.
Coach of the Year: Steve Hansen
It was always going to come down to Super 15 Champion coach Dave Rennie and the near-perfect All Black coach Steve Hansen. Both have had excellent seasons, but Hansen gets the nod based on the risks he took and the rewards his team reaped.
Rennie was outstanding, taking a Chiefs side that had been written off and masterminding its championship run. He was able to get the best out of Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams, who formed a lethal combination pivotal to the side's going all the way.
But Hansen was brilliant, too. Julian Savea, Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano all became an integral part of a team few would have picked them for 12 months ago. Hansen deserves enormous credit for this, taking gambles on youngsters and getting it right.
He was to finish the season with 12 wins, one draw and just one loss, far and away the best of any international coach.
Breakout Player of the Year: Michael Hooper
This was one of the hardest categories to narrow down. As was to be expected, there were plenty of players who broke out in 2012.
There were a ton from New Zealand, in the hard working locks Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano, along with rampaging winger Julian Savea and the fast-passing Aaron Smith.
South Africa had their fair share, too, with Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Johan Goosen and Marcell Coetzee all having seasons to remember.
Owen Farrell showed his worth at times for England and was remarkably nominated for world player of the year.
But the best has to be Australia's Michael Hooper, who was outstanding all season. His work at the breakdown is reminiscent of a younger Richie McCaw, whilst his ball-running skills would have to be second only to McCaw, as far as openside flankers go. He filled the shoes of David Pocock well and at times was the best player for a struggling Wallabies outfit.
Watch this space, as he's only going to get better.
Dirtiest Act of the Year: Dean Greyling Takes out Richie McCaw
There was no shortage of cheap shots handed out in 2012.
It was one of the big talking points of the year, as no consistency could be found in the punishments handed out by the judiciary.
Andrew Hore taking out Bradley Davies comes a close second.
But this act from Dean Greyling was the worst of the year. It's hard to believe he only missed one game for this.
Team of the Year: The All Blacks
There was no real contest for this one.
The All Blacks were far and away the best team in 2012, notching up 12 wins and a draw, adding to their streak of seven wins from 2011.
They were to go undefeated for 20 matches before losing to a fired-up England team in the last game of the season. Take nothing away from England, they were brilliant; but this was a tired All Blacks side who had suffered from a norovirus earlier in the week. The loss shouldn't take away from what they achieved this year.
Perhaps their dominance came from the fact there was no other real competition. But you can only play whoever is in front of you.
At times they showed us just how good they were, in flawless displays of brilliance. But there were times when they were average, too, and showed they had not escaped the need to re-gel in the post-World Cup year.
That said, you can't knock them.
Their forwards were dominant, their backs lethal. What makes them so good, though, is the ability of each player to do every job on the field at a reasonably good level. It means they can truly play as a team and don't have to rely on individuals doing specific jobs.
They will enter 2013 as the team to beat. This is nothing new and will undoubtedly fuel the All Blacks fire to protect their outstanding record for yet another season.
Player of the Year: Kieran Read
There were a number of candidates, but in the end this award was always going to go one of two ways.
Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Cory Jane, Bryan Habana and Juan Fernandez Lobbe were all amongst the standout performers and had huge seasons.
But the player of the year had to come down to All Blacks leaders Richie McCaw and Kieran Read. Both make great cases, and it's hard picking one.
McCaw at times carried the All Blacks, brutal on defence and strong on attack. His ability to cover for his team's mistakes was huge, too, as he had to bail the All Blacks out of tight spots on multiple occasions.
Read, however, was phenomenal all season as a strong ball-runner and was just as brutal on defence. His work rate is outstanding, and he is also skilled in the set-piece areas, controlling the ball well at the back of the scrum and a is good option at lineout time.
Take your pick between these two, there isn't really a wrong answer. I'll take Read though, his consistency was unmatched as he had the best season of his career.
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