Ranking the 25 Best Games of 2013

Danny CoyleFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

Ranking the 25 Best Games of 2013

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    With the year coming to an end it's time to look back at the best matches of 2013.

    This top 25 has looked at high-scoring, high-entertainment value matches for candidates, many of which were tighter than a wet suit on a prop forward.

    Across the international scene, Super Rugby, Aviva Premiership, RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup, there has been a plethora of games that have provided plenty of thrills and spills.

    Here are 25 of the best.

     

25. Newport Gwent Dragons vs Munster, Rodney Parade

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    The Dragons had a much stronger side out than Munster, but the mismatch in experience did little to deter from a hugely entertaining spectacle in the PRO 12 that went down to the wire.

    From 19-5 down at half time the Munstermen fought back to within five points of the Welsh region, then took the lead in the last eight minutes with Ian Keatley’s conversion of Johne Murphy’s try.

    But the Dragons still had time to snatch the win with Ross Wardle’s try and a late penalty from Tom Prydie.

24. Highlanders vs Reds, Dunedin

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    The Reds escaped with a narrow win from the deep south of New Zealand after a fightback from the home side almost robbed them.

    From 31-16 down they climbed back to 30-31 with Ma’a Nonu’s 67th-minute score.

    Quade Cooper edged the Reds to 30-34 ahead but a Lima Sopoaga penalty made it a one-point ball game again, leaving the Queenslanders hanging on for the last seven minutes.

23. Montpellier vs Leicester, Stade Yves Du Manoir

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    For a match that was locked scoreless at half time, these two crammed in plenty of drama to the second 40 minutes.

    Tom Youngs put Leicester ahead early in the second period but with less than 10 minutes to go the home side led 14-8.

    The Tigers launched one last salvo on the French rearguard, and a brilliant pass from prop Marcos Ayerza found centre Niki Goneva, who crossed the line and, amid the drama, composed himself to get as close to the sticks as possible.

    Ryan Lamb’s conversion was subsequently an easy one, and the Tigers escaped with an unlikely win.

22. Waratahs vs Blues, Sydney

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    Bernard Foley’s injury-time penalty gave the 'Tahs a famous win over the Aucklanders after a titanic struggle in Sydney.

    The outstanding Foley was pivotal in the game, converting his own score midway through the second half to haul his men level from 24-17 down, and he applied the coup de gras with the clock past 80 minutes after Chris Noakes thought he had won it with a 72nd-minute three-pointer.

21. Waratahs vs Cheetahs, Sydney

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    A 26-27 home loss for the Sydneysiders made it three straight losses to the Cheetahs, and this one was as close as they get.

    Scores were tied at 20-20 after 50 minutes before a David McKibbin penalty nudged the home side in front. Raymond Rhule’s try grabbed the initiative back for the Cheetahs, though, with Johan Goosen’s conversion proving critical.

    At 27-23, McKibbin’s 72nd minute penalty made it a one-point ball game, but the nervy Cheetahs clung on to maintain their status as the Waratahs' No. 1 bogeymen.

20. Stormers vs Chiefs, Cape Town

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    The Cape Town-based Stormers held on to the win after a late onslaught from the Chiefs made them sweat in a seven-try thriller.

    A 33-20 lead quickly became 33-27, and the Stormers were grateful for a Joe Pietersen penalty after Andrew Horrell scored a fourth Chiefs try to close the gap to 36-34 with a handful of minutes left.

    A great South Africa v New Zealand tussle.

19. London Wasps vs Northampton, Adams Park

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    Wasps had gone unbeaten at home all season until Northampton arrived for a ding-dong in the Buckinghamshire snow.

    A nip-tuck, full-blooded first hour saw the sides locked at 19-19 before Elliot Daly made it 24-19 to the home side.

    Then Ashley Johnson was shown a yellow card and the Saints took advantage of the extra man late on.

    Christian Day scored on 79 minutes to level the match, and Stephen Myler’s conversion ended Wasps’ proud home record for the season.

18. Perpignan vs Munster, Stade Aime Giral

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    Munster and the Heineken Cup is a combination never long estranged from drama.

    In the pool stages of the 2013/14 edition, the Irishmen were at it again in a thunderous encounter in Catalonia. Leading into the dying embers of the contest 13-12, Rod Penney’s men were undone by Tommaso Benvenuti’s 77th-minute try.

    With their qualification now in the balance, they had one last roll of the dice, and in injury time, J.J. Hanrahan crept over to lay down another chapter of glorious Heineken Cup history for the Limerick men.

17. London Welsh vs Harlequins, Oxford

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    Welsh went straight back down in a tempestuous season but they went down throwing leather, at least.

    This clash was one such example. Trailing 21-6 to Quins at half time, the Dragon found some fire in its belly in the second half and roared back to 19-24 after 64 minutes.

    Quins distanced themselves again with Nick Evans’ converted try but Welsh rattled their nerves once more with an Ed Jackson try converted by Gordon Ross six minutes from time.

    A thumping game to watch.

16. London Irish vs. Sale, Madejski Stadium

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    Irish and Sale didn’t have great campaigns in the 2012/13 season, but their clash in Reading served up plenty of thrills and spills in a 33-33 draw.

    Irish looked in control at 14-3 after 10 minutes, but Mark Cueto struck before the half hour mark to put Sale 15-14 up and at half time they led 22-20. James Gaskell and Max Lahiff swapped tries early in the second half and a Tom Homer penalty made it 30-30 on 55 minutes.

    Homer struck again and it looked like he had sealed a see-saw victory, until Nick MacLeod held his nerve in the 79th minute for a precious three points for the Sharks.

15. Clermont Auvergne vs. Toulon, Dublin

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    The 2013 Heineken Cup final brought the fairy tale story of Mourad Boudjellal and his millions to a romantic climax in the fair city.

    Clermont Auvergne looked to have set themselves on the path to a first Heineken triumph with second half tries from Brock James and Napolioni Nalaga, but a steal from Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe set Delon Armitage free to score Toulon’s only try.

    Jonny Wilkinson’s boot did the rest for a 15-16 win and Boudjellal had his reward for his investment.

14. Hurricanes vs. Crusaders, Wellington

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    The Crusaders saw a 28-19 lead obliterated in the last 20 minutes of a classic Super Rugby clash between two New Zealand powerhouse franchises.

    Just two points ahead coming up to the hour, Dan Carter converted his own try to give the Crusaders some daylight, but Alapati Leuia’s 72nd-minute try got the Canes back into things, and Beauden Barrett’s conversion nicked a narrow win for the Wellington men.

    Julian Savea’s try became a big talking point after he smashed through All Black colleague Israel Dagg in emphatic fashion.

13. Bath vs. Leicester, the Rec

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    For 50 minutes of this contest, there was never more than four points between these two old enemies.

    Toby Flood’s second penalty in four minutes finally gave the Tigers some breathing space at 26-19.

    Following that, Tom Heathcote’s penalty for Bath was the only impression on the scoreboard until Francois Louw hauled the home side in front with a 73rd-minute try that sealed the last tussle of the season between two of England’s greatest clubs in Bath’s favour, 26-27.

12. Racing Metro vs. Saracens, Nantes

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    Owen Farrell kicked a competition-record 10 penalties as Saracens claimed a famous win over the big-spending Parisians, 37-28.

    The Fez Heads scored only one try but still conquered their more fancied rivals to edge themselves to the verge of qualification for the quarter finals of last season’s tournament.

    What made Sarries’ triumph all the more impressive was that they fought back from 22-9 down after 25 minutes to do it. One of the great English comebacks on French soil.

11. Italy vs. France, Rome

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    Italy recorded their second successive home soil win over Les Bleus in the old Championship.

    The Stadio Olimpico was rocking when Martin Castrogiovanni barged over in the second half to spark a comeback to which France had no answer.

    Sergio Parisse had put France on the back foot early with the game’s opening try, but Louis Picamoles and Benjamin Fall scored before half time.

    A Freddie Michalak penalty gave them an 18-13 lead, but an inspired Luciano Orquera put Castrogiovanni over and gave Italy the lead with his conversion.

    His replacement Kris Burton knocked over a drop goal to move the game further out of Les Bleus’ reach and send all Rome into ecstasy.

     

     

10. Bulls vs. Brumbies, Pretoria

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    The semi-final of the 2013 Super 15 saw the favourites and hosts, the Bulls, go in heavily fancied to reach another final.

    The Canberra-based Brumbies had not been in a final for a decade, and looked to continue that trend when the Bulls took the lead with 30 minutes left.

    But they made some poor decisions to kick to the corner rather than rely on the trusty boot of fly-half Morne Steyn to extend their lead.

    They paid for it in dramatic fashion when Tevita Kuridrani’s try two minutes from time sealed a thrilling comeback win for the Australians.

9. Samoa vs. Scotland, Durban

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    Samoa joined Japan in making 2013 a year of firsts when they downed Scotland in the summer.

    Alesana Tuilagi scored twice in a 27-17 win as the Islanders made history during a four-team tournament in South Africa.

    Scotland bombed a number of opportunities and had no answer to the power of the former Leicester Tigers wing as he went on the rampage to inspire Samoa to a famous win.

8. New Zealand vs. South Africa, Auckland

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    The first clash of the Rugby Championship between these two heavyweights produced an absorbing contest.

    Indeed, were it not for the controversial red card shown to Boks hooker Bismarck du Plessis, the All Blacks’ hopes of a perfect year might have gone up in green and gold smoke long before Ireland threatened to derail them at the death.

    A 14-3 lead for the Blacks was reduced to 14-10 when du Plessis scored after half an hour, but he was shown a second yellow card just after the break, having dubiously received his first for a hit on Dan Carter that looked well within the laws on replay.

    In the second half, a Beauden Barrett penalty and Kieran Read try reasserted the home side’s dominance in a full-blooded encounter before Sam Cane put them out of sight.

    Pat Lambie’s late score was little consolation to a South African side who knew a golden chance had gone begging.

7. Chiefs vs. Brumbies, Hamilton

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    The Chiefs claimed back-to-back Super Rugby titles, but they did it the hard way against the Brumbies.

    In a game that featured two comebacks from a 10-point deficit, they trailed 19-9 just after half time and then 22-12 inside the last 20 minutes.

    Inspired by Liam Messam’s second Man of the Match display in as many finals, they climbed the mountain, with Messam and Robbie Robinson scoring to complete a famous fightback.

6. Japan vs. Wales, Tokyo

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    This match itself may not have been a classic in terms of quality or the margin between the two sides at the end.

    But for the fact it was a historic first win for Japan over Wales, it belongs in 2013’s hall of fame. Wales were shorn of their significant Lions contingent on their tour to the home of the Asian champions, but still fielded experienced internationals like Bradley Davies and Dan Biggar.

    But the Brave Blossoms, who had only lost by four points the previous week, were not to be denied again.

    Tries from Craig Wing and Michael Broadhurst helped them to a famous 23-8 win and the largest scalp in their history.

5. France vs. New Zealand, Paris

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    New Zealand’s first match of their European tour took them to Paris, where the smart money would have been on a demolition job on France, whose Six Nations form saw them carry off the wooden spoon and got them beaten thrice by the Blacks in the summer.

    Typically, France transformed themselves to give the All Blacks a real go.

    Les Bleus raged away at the All Blacks and broke their line on numerous occasions in the first half, only to come up short in a hugely physical encounter.

    At nine points apiece after the break, New Zealand finally found some breathing space with tries from Charles Piutau and Kieran Read.

    Brice Dulin’s late score set New Zealand nerves clanging, but they held on for a hard-fought win.

4. Exeter vs. Gloucester, Sandy Park

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    The highest-scoring game the Premiership saw in 2013 came on the last day of the regular season.

    Exeter raced into an 18-0 lead only to see it whittled away and overhauled by the Cherry and Whites, who went ahead 22-18 with tries from Jonny May, Charlie Sharples and Henry Trinder.

    The Chiefs then took back control of the game stamped all over with the kind of de-mob madness you can get at the end of a season.

    In the South West sunshine, Gareth Steenson’s boot made it 25-22 by the break and then 34-22 with less than half an hour left.

    Gloucester roared back to 34-32 before Steenson made the gap five points with his sixth penalty, only for Freddie Burns to convert his own try and put Gloucester back in front at 37-39 with seven minutes left. But Steenson had one last shot to win it in the 79th minute and took it. 40-39.

    Early summer madness at its very best.

3. Australia vs. Lions, Sydney

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    Everything hinged on the final Test of the 2013 Lions Tour.

    The tourists had squeaked the first despite some breath-taking rugby from Australia in patches. Kurtley Beale’s muffed late penalty was all that kept them from opening Test defeat. In the second, the Wallabies hit back, and it was Leigh Halfpenny’s turn to feel the pain as his last-gasp penalty fell short.

    Australia had the momentum, and the Lions had a mounting injury crisis, with skipper Sam Warburton out and totemic lock Paul O’Connell nursing a broken arm.

    But amid the lumps and bumps—and the controversial dropping of Brian O’Driscoll—the Lions found their finest performance in a Test since the first Test 12 years previous in Brisbane.

    An early try from Alex Corbisiero settled nerves, but they were jangling again by the break after James O’Connor danced through to score.

    After half time, the Lions found fifth gear. Leigh Halfpenny created super tries for Jonny Sexton and George North before Jamie Roberts, back from injury for the decider, stormed through the gold rearguard in trademark fashion to send tens of thousands of Lions fans into ecstasy.   

2. South Africa vs. New Zealand, Johannesburg

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    The two best sides in the world served up a feast of attacking rugby in the finale of the Rugby Championship.

    South Africa stood toe to toe with the All Blacks as they traded tries in the first half. Bryan Habana scored two outstanding five-pointers, but circumstances meant the Boks had to go for it.

    Only a four-try win would be enough as long as they could stop New Zealand gaining a single point, but their desire to attack meant there would be plenty of room for the All Blacks to exploit.

    Liam Messam twice and Ben Smith once all crossed in the first half, which meant when Beauden Barrett wriggled free to add a fourth in the second half, it was all over in terms of the title.

    But as a match in its own right, and in Johannesburg, where the All Blacks had failed to win since 1997, this was the best feast of physicality, pace and skill we saw at Test level all year.

1. Ireland vs. New Zealand, Dublin

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    Ireland came as close as they will ever come to beating the All Blacks without actually finishing the job. New Zealand had rampaged their way to 13 wins from 13 in 2013. Last stop, Dublin, where Ireland had been thumped the week before by Australia.

    Incredibly, Joe Schmidt’s men raced into a 22-7 lead after 30 minutes with tries from Rory Best, Eoin Reddan and Rob Kearney. It was rugby from the Gods with a heavy dose of Irish fury thrown in for good measure.

    And it was a cocktail that had New Zealand staggering towards disaster. Somehow, they found their feet and recovered to 22-17 through the boot of Aaron Cruden and a Ben Franks try. Then came the kick that will haunt Jonny Sexton forever.

    His missed penalty with time almost up gave the All Blacks one last chance. And Ireland knew it. It was almost inevitable as their last attack unfolded, rucking with fierce determination and eventually working Ryan Crotty over wide on the left. That levelled the scores.

    Cruden’s first shot went horribly wide, but the referee spotted the Irish chasers had taken a flyer, and with no chase allowed on the retake, the No. 10 stroked it over. New Zealand became invincible. Ireland inconsolable.