Rugby enjoyed its fair share of lowlights on the pitch in 2012.
Rugby Union may be seen as one of the more gentlemanly contact sports around the globe; its leadership certainly likes to label it as such. But the truth is that, like many sports, there has always been a dark and sinister side to the game, and 2012 was no different.
Current Rugby Football Union (RFU) citing officer and former England international, Wade Dooley, gave an interview last year with Alan Fraser of the Daily Mail where he claimed much of his sport's foul play had been neutralized through advancements in officiating and technology:
Back then, rugby was a hard game for hard men. We did the job we had to. The referee was alone. We had to have eyes in the back of our heads. There was no help from touch judges, who were not allowed to intervene.
Nowadays, the game is so well monitored. There are effectively four referees in the ground; there are all kinds of camera angles; and the citing officers go through matches with a fine-tooth comb. You can’t go charging around, stamping on heads or gouging, or whatever. You would not get away with it. Just as well.
Many a rugby player would no doubt agree with Dooley and give thanks for the supposed increases in law and order. However, every once and a while an incident occurs which reminds us that rugby still has its dark side.
Fortunately for officials and fans alike, Mr. Dooley was right about the cameras....
When it comes to shameful moments on the playground, let alone the playing field, few would deny that hitting a man with his back turned is at the top of the list Last year, New Zealand's Andrew Hore showed us that the lost art of "hitting from behind" is not dead, during a November test match versus Wales, in Cardiff.
Though an excellent tactic for ninjas, such actions are well and truly out of place on the rugby pitch.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) handed Hore a five-week ban for his actions, but commentators in the British press suggested it was worthy of criminal prosecution.
Such involvement on the part of the criminal justice system, at least, is a debatable point; that Mr. Hore deserves to be included in our list, is not.
Elbows have had a long and distinguished history in regard to foul play. In the sport of ice hockey, Gordie Howe often played without pads on his joints, just so he could introduce his opponents to his elbows unimpaired.
In the UFC, current light heavyweight champion of the World, Jon Jones, thrills fans with the brutal use of his elbows, while usually avoiding the most lethal use of direct elbow strikes, which the sport of MMA mercifully bans.
Even Mr. Jones, however, seldom gets a running start.
Enter South African prop forward Dean Greyling, who decided to introduce New Zealand's Richie McCaw to a flying elbow during the 2012 Rugby Championship tournament. Mr. Greyling received a two-week ban by the IRB for his efforts.
Though dozens of forwards in international rugby have, doubtlessly, wanted to do the same to McCaw—long one of the game's most obstructive players—most will agree Mr. Greyling should find alternative ways of driving his point home.
What would a rundown of a season's foul play be without a good old-fashioned head-stomping?
Once again, we have the World champions from New Zealand to thank, in the specific form of one Mr. Adam Thomson.
The IRB hands out a number of bans each season for foul play, but very few received the publicity of Thomson's. After reviewing the video found above, from a November test match versus Scotland, the IRB's own citing commissioner gave the All Black forward a one-week ban.
So irate was the reaction that the IRB's own directors undertook a review of the file, demanding a harsher punishment.
Surely they were right to do so. In the aftermath, Thomson had the length of his ban doubled to two weeks, which still seems ludicrously low.
When the authority in charge of discipline within your sport reviews its own punishment of your offence, you know you've made some enemies.
On October 11, 2012, Gloucester flanker Andy Hazell and his team were in the middle of a bitter and hard-fought contest with France's Stade Montois in the Amlin Challenge Cup. The play had generally become rough, when all of a sudden the match official blew the play dead, to find Hazell striking Stade Montois' Sebastien Ormaechea with his fists and knees.
Hazell went on to claim that he had been the victim of eye-gouging, something that was impossible to prove by the video evidence available after the match.
For what can only be described as a mid-game "beatdown," Hazel was given a 16-week ban by the IRB, which was later reduced to 12 as a result of his guilty plea.
Whether or not he was provoked, rugby games should not be interrupted by such outbreaks of violence.
At minimum, he could have waited for a whistle.
It's hard to draw a line as to where a sport's governing body needs to remove itself from a particular act of foul play and allow civilian legal authorities to step in; however, Northampton's Calum Clark may well have come close to finding it.
On March 18, 2012, Clark found himself tangled in a ruck with Leicester's Rob Hawkins. In a brutal act of violence, Clark grabbed the opposing player's arm in an MMA-style joint-lock and broke Hawkins' arm at the elbow.
In a tremendous example of British understatement Leicester's Head Coach, Richard Cockerill, had these words for the BBC after the match:
"If Calum Clark is deemed to have done it on purpose it's pretty horrendous.
"It's a pretty poor act. I think it's completely out of order and, in my opinion, it's as bad an injury as I've seen on a rugby field."
Amazingly, the IRB disciplinary panel found that Clark had "not intended to injure" Hawkins, but nevertheless handed him a 64-week ban, which was subsequently reduced to 32 weeks with his guilty plea.
For an act of violence that would surely be questioned, even in a martial arts arena, Calum Clark tops our list of 2012 rugby villains.
While our list is over, the discussion is just beginning. Bleacher Report is your home for great discussion, along with all of the sports news you can handle. So make your own picks for rugby's 2012 low-lights and villains and let the debate begin.
Jeff Hull is a contributor to Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter by clicking on the link below.