25 Biggest Rugby Blunders of 2013

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2013

25 Biggest Rugby Blunders of 2013

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Christmas is that part of the season when we look forward to the new challenges of the year ahead but where we also look back on the previous 12 months and recollect the most impressive moments.

    Rugby provided us with as much top-class entertainment as ever; unfortunately, there were as fine a selection of mistakes to pick from, too.

    Whether on the pitch or off it, high stakes or low, we've compiled the year's biggest blunders, mistakes and mishaps of 2013.

    Since some slips were more disastrous than others, the rankings have taken into account factors such as context and level of importance.

    If you feel the order is flawed or think there's been an omission, feel free to give us your suggestions in the forum below.

25. North Otago Restart Goes Awry

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    The kickoff is possibly the most rudimentary aspect of any rugby match. That part of the game is almost identical on every attempt.

    However, a meeting between North Otago and Mid Canterbury in the 2013 Meads Cup final was given a particularly unfortunate spin thanks to the New Zealand winds playing their part in the matter.

    As a result, the ball was brought back to halfway for an opposition scrum, and the commentator's reaction highlighted the rarity of this particular mistake.

24. Manu Tuilagi's Bunny Ears

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    Manu Tuilagi has always been renowned for his playful side, and how can one blame a 22-year-old for having a little fun?

    However, the Samoan-born England international may have taken his antics too far when he made a bunny ears gesture behind David Cameron's head during a British and Irish Lions visit to Downing Street.

    After the gesture sparked a media furor, one would argue that Tuilagi was just having some harmless fun, but it was one bit of malarkey that he could have perhaps gone without. 

23. Austin Healey Bites off More Than He Can Chew

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    During his playing days, Austin Healey never backed down from a more physically imposing challenger, so it's good to see that little has changed in retirement.

    Appearing as part of BT Sport's rugby coverage cast, the veteran decided to take on not just Lawrence Dallaglio but also Ben Kay as part of a boxing challenge.

    The outcome isn't all that surprising.

22. Sam Mataora Gets His Bearings Mixed Up

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    Rugby league is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world, and a mixture of adrenaline and a lack of oxygen can sometimes lead to confusing results.

    Take Sam Mataora, for example. In a fixture against Tonga earlier this year, the Cook Islands international came out of a tackle facing the wrong and proceeded to feed the ball through his legs to the opposition.

    Given the magnitude of some tackles, it's a slight surprise that one doesn't see this happening more often.

21. Israel Folau Takes on George North

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    Israel Folau has had a prestigious year, making his Wallabies debut against the British and Irish Lions and steadily growing as an Australian international powerhouse.

    However, it wasn't all smiles for the 24-year-old, who bit off more than he could chew when trying to tackle George North.

    In all honesty, many players have made the same mistake, but few have produced results as hilarious.

20. Justin Hodges Caught Bribing the Officials

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    Match fixing has never been an epidemic in the National Rugby League, but an investigation may be in order after Justin Hodges was caught on camera trying to bribe match officials.

    The Queensland utility offered to buy the referee a cold one during a State of Origin clash in exchange for the official awarding a try that was going to video referee.

    Hodges got what he wanted, but it's unknown if the referee ever received his promised brew.

    The world is watching, Hodges.

19. Simon Zebo's Captaincy Call

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    Simon Zebo was known as a joker on the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, but the winger's pranks landed him in some hot water of his own along the way.

    The 23-year-old told Munster teammate Conor Murray that the referee would call for halftime were he to kick the ball into touch during one of the Lions' warm-up matches, knowing full well that the timer had yet to reach 40 minutes.

    As the Irish Independent reported at the time, the truth came to light, and Zebo was eventually forced to roll the "forfeit dice." The outcome? Zebo had to call Munster coach Rob Penney and ask for the club's captaincy.

    The team listened on in anticipation and the outcome was hysterical.

18. Richard Cockerill Loses His Cool in Premiership Final

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Although emotions can often spill over, coaches are looked upon as rugby's level-headed standard-bearers. Their duty is to rise above the tempers that may have showed during their playing days.

    However, Leicester Tigers' coach Richard Cockerill let his fiery spirit get the better of him during the 2012/13 Aviva Premiership final, when he used "obscene, inappropriate and unprofessional and behaviour," according to an official RFU disciplinary report.

    The resulting punishment was a nine-match touchline suspension, not to mention a substantial damning of the director's reputation.

17. Journalist Asks Steve McNamara the Wrong Question

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    In another incident involving personnel of a non-playing capacity, Steve McNamara reacted strongly to some questions relating to his omission of certain England players during the build-up to the Rugby League World Cup.

    The hosting nation's coach promptly embarrassed the quizzing reporters, who refused to step down in their pursuit of answers. Helpless, they had to watch McNamara storm out of the press conference, who professed that he had to catch the team coach.

16. Damien Traille's Diving Deception

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    Diving is an endemic that is related to other sports, and so far it has managed to stay out of rugby for the large part, although it is worming its way into facets of the game.

    The Top 14 competition houses some of the biggest exaggerative culprits, including Damien Traille.

    The Biarritz back temporarily forgot that the French top flight is regularly watched by the millions. He flopped over against Clermont Auvergne in melodramatic fashion in a crime that deserves pointing out.

15. Danny Care Kick Backfires vs. Italy

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    After tying on points with Wales at the tournament's end, England only missed out on 2013 Six Nations glory by virtue of Warren Gatland's side being more proficient in attack.

    However, England's campaign had its share of less inspiring moments, such as Danny Care's miserable box-kick attempt against Italy, which swiftly allowed the Azzurri to cross over for a simple try.

14. Dominic Day's Knee-Slide Cramp

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    Pulling up for a cramp mid-match is never an attractive sight; pulling up for a cramp due to one's own try celebrations is downright embarrassing.

    However, Bath's Dominic Day knows the feeling all too well after he was left red-faced thanks to his hamstring giving in after he performed a knee slide against Sale Sharks earlier this year.

    Always warm up properly, kids.

13. Gavin Henson Wastes Little Time in Annoying Bath Teammates

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    During his 13-year professional career, Gavin Henson has drawn an inordinate amount of media attention—some good and some bad.

    After joining Bath in June, the Welsh journeyman took less than a month to get knocked out by teammate Carl Fearns during a night on the town.

    It's difficult to ascertain who's at fault for the incident, considering both players are to blame for such an immature occurrence, but the CCTV footage of the event makes for interesting viewing.

12. Anthony Watts Is Suspended for Possibly the Worst Reason Ever

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    A suspension is rarely the result of anything positive, but every now and then, one can empathise with the plight of an offending player—just not in Anthony Watts' case. He does not deserve even a microbe of sympathy after he was banned for eight matches for biting an opposing player in the nether region.

    Per an Australian Associated Press (h/t The Guardian) report, the former Tugan player denied any wrongdoing, and as part of his defence, he said: "I was wearing a mouthguard."

11. Referee Is Lenient with Chabal Right Hook

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    Referees often get picked up for their trade and are endlessly critiqued for making the wrong decisions in high-pressure situations when opinion can go in either direction.

    However, the official of a match between Lyon and Agen earlier this December dropped the ball when handing Sebastien Chabal just a yellow card for this crunching (and all too obvious) hook on Marc Giraud.

    That being said, I wouldn't want to be the man responsible for telling Chabal that he was sent off.

10. Ronan O'Gara Shows Signs of Age

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    It's never pleasing to see a legend of the game go through his degradation bit by bit, but Ireland's reliance on Ronan O'Gara meant that the fly-half stuck around on the international stage until the very last breath.

    The Munster man has an endless showreel of highs from an illustrious career, but this was a low point.

    During a dismal 2013 Six Nations, the Irishman wasn't at ease with Scotland's pressure, contributing this awful attempt at a cross-field kick, which would help the Scots in claiming a 12-8 victory over O'Gara's side.

9. Cian Healy Puts Obvious Stamp in on Dan Cole

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    Stamping is an ugly byproduct that sometimes creeps into rugby, and thanks to the advances in rugby coverage, we now see a higher portion of the offences than ever before.

    Cian Healy's disgusting attempt to "move" the leg of England's Dan Cole during this year's Six Nations was enough to earn him a three-week ban.

    What was even worse was that, as two of the Isles' standout props at the moment, Cole and Healy were selected for Warren Gatland's touring Lions squad to come together again as teammates.

    Awkward.

8. Sonny Bill Williams Is Human After All

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    A blunder is defined as "a stupid or careless mistake," and in that vein, Sonny Bill Williams summed up the term succinctly in a momentary lapse of concentration during the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

    Although it occurred during a demolition of Samoa, the Player of the Year award winner showed that he is in fact open to the same mistakes as the rest of us, spoiling a perfectly good breakaway try by slipping at the most crucial stage.

7. Kurtley Beale Literally Slips Up

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    Another gaffe in terms of a player losing his grip when it matters most came during the 2013 Lions tour, where Kurtley Beale was still an integral part of the Australian setup.

    However, mistakes such as this one caused Ewen McKenzie to exclude the player eventually.

    With the game entering its final minutes and his side just two points behind, Beale had not one but two chances to put the Wallabies ahead in their first Test. To his dismay, the conditions got the better of him on both occasions.

6. Worst Touch Decision of the Year?

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    It didn't occur at the pinnacle of the sport, so one can perhaps excuse the lack of top-quality officiating.

    That being said, it takes a touch judge of fairly questionable resolve not to award this as a line-out, considering he's all of two yards away from the incident.

5. Australian Players Binge Drinking

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    Stu Forster/Getty Images

    International rugby is seen as the top of the sport. It is the stage upon which only consummate professionals and those at the peak of their physical beings compete.

    However, a select group of Ewen McKenzie's Wallabies showed that the Emerald Isle's reputation for a fun night out was just too good to resist back in November.

    As The Guardian's Robert Kitson reports, six Australian players were suspended for drinking excessive amounts of alcohol just a few nights prior to their encounter against Ireland in Dublin.

    Opinion is bound to be split on where the line is drawn regarding relaxation and serious preparation, but when the stakes are as high as a November Test, going without the nightlife for a few weeks is far from out of the question.

4. Kevin Sinfield's Rush Defence Helps End England's Rugby League World Cup

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    Kevin Sinfield stood as a fantastic leader for England throughout this year's Rugby League World Cup, but one specific decision is bound to haunt the national team's captain for some time.

    In the dying second of their semi-final meeting with New Zealand and with the Kiwis pressing, the hosts' leading figure stepped up out of his line with a piece of defensive naivety that just uncharacteristic of his personality.

    Snapping up the opportunity, Shaun Johnson proceeded to elude all defenders, cruise over for the try and fire the reigning titleholders into the tournament's final.

3. Steve Ganson's TMO Howler

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    Another unfortunate case of an official's decision not exactly working out for the best came in May, when Steve Ganson was relieved of the latter half of his Magic Weekend refereeing duties thanks to a poor mistake made in the Hull derby, per BBC Sport.

    The Super League referee gave a try that never should have been. Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell described the call as "the single worst decision in the last 10 years of rugby league."

    It's difficult to get it right all the time, but with the modern advances in TMO and video refereeing, one would like to think that contentious offside calls such as this could be a thing of the past.

2. NRL Referees' Tackle Count Mishap

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    Poor refereeing doesn't just occur in the Northern Hemisphere, either.

    Back in September, referees Matt Cecchin and Henry Perenara were temporarily relieved of their duties thanks to a mistake made with the tackle count during an elimination final fixture between the Sharks and Cowboys.

    The NRL officials allowed the Sharks to have seven tackles after failing to alert the side that they had used their permitted six. As a result, Beau Ryan scored a last-gasp try that decided the tie.

    As far as some in Australian circles are concerned, the stakes couldn't have been much higher, and therefore the decision couldn't have been much more crucial given the context.

1. Romain Poite Yellow Cards Bismarck Du Plessis

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    2013 saw New Zealand become the first national side ever to win all of their matches in a calendar year, but the achievement may never have come about were it not for a tide-turning decision from Romain Poite.

    During a Round 4 meeting between the All Blacks and South Africa, a resurgent Springboks side began well at Eden Park and were even on the front foot against their Southern Hemisphere foes.

    However, the game was turned on its head when Poite showed Bismarck du Plessis, one of Heyneke Meyer's most critical squad figures, a yellow card for what many would agree was a perfectly legal hit on Dan Carter.

    After that, matters unsurprisingly started shifting in New Zealand's favour. The controversy intensified when Du Plessis was sent off for a second caution just after halftime.

    As a result, the All Blacks continued their 2013 run, got an incredibly tough fixture against a fellow global giant out of the way and continued their romp to dominance.

    This was the biggest refereeing blunder of the year, if not in recent memory. 

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