Picking a XV of Test Rugby's Most Disappointing Players in 2013
The very nature of sport decrees that sometimes players are just going to have a stinker.
Whether they get outplayed by their opposite, drop a massive, unenforced clanger or do something downright stupid, sportsmen have their off-days, even off-seasons.
So, picking a XV of men who could and should have done better in 2013 requires us to look for the underperformers, the howlers and the moments of stupidity, rashness or misfortune that made this year one to remember for the wrong reasons.
One way or another, each member of this XV did something in 2013 that made us shake our heads in disappointment or dismay.
1. Cian Healy
Healy was the culprit of a nasty rake at the back of a ruck during Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to England, which blotted this outstanding prop’s copy book.
However, he then suffered a misfortune no player would wish on another when a serious ankle injury on the Lions’ second tour match ruled him out of the rest of the trip.
From being nailed on as the test prop to watching the tour from the sofa—hard lines for a hard man.
2. Dylan Hartley
Yes, he performed well in the autumn internationals, but Dylan Hartley makes this team for one reason and one reason only.
His outburst at referee Wayne Barnes in the Aviva Premiership final cost his team a foothold in the match and his own place on the Lions tour.
Hartley’s temperament has been called into question on a number of occasions in the past, and just when we all thought his petulant days were behind him, he sunk to another low point. Daft.
3. Ben Alexander
The job of the tight-head prop is to anchor his scrum, stand solid and then attack his opposite man if he can.
In 14 appearances in the Wallabies jersey in 2013, Alexander didn't do any of these things with overwhelming success.
If you could offer coach Ewen McKenzie the chance to trade any of his players for one or two from another country, my guess is he’d start with Alexander.
4. James Horwill
Dropped from the Wallabies captaincy by Ewen McKenzie, James Horwill did regain some of his best form in Australia’s autumn tour.
But he makes this list for his footwork on Alun Wyn Jones in the first test of the Lions series that went inexplicably unpunished by the authorities.
5. Richie Gray
The all-action, blond-mopped Gray started 2013 as a strong contender for a starting place in the Lions Test team, but he fell behind Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn Jones and Geoff Parling in the pecking order. He did earn one test cap off the bench.
By the time of the autumn fixtures, he looked off the pace just when Scotland needed their firebrand to go toe-to-toe with the big lumps of the South African pack, and he was dropped for their clash with Australia.
Here’s hoping he regains his best form, because he is a special talent.
6. George Smith
Watching Smith reinsert himself into the international arena in the white-hot environs of a Lions test was unedifying.
He is a shadow of the player who would once have walked into a World XV, and it was even more galling to see him knocked senseless and return to the field still addled from the blow.
7. France’s Revolving Door at No. 7
Picking one player who had a largely sub-par 2013 for this position was tough, but looking down the list of names who filled the No. 7 jersey for Les Bleus in the last 12 months points to one of the chief causes for their failings in 2013.
No fewer than five different players featured at open side, as Philippe Saint-Andre tinkered with a line-up that recorded just two wins all year.
Players such as Thierry Dusautoir and Fulgence Ouedraogo are world-class operators, but both were shuffled around too often along with Bernard Le Roux, Wenceslas Lauret and Damien Chouly for them to become an impactful open side in the mould of a Richie McCaw or Michael Hooper.
For a side this talented, to meddle with a key position this much is disappointing.
8. Jamie Heaslip
Heaslip was, by his own high standards, anonymous during the Six Nations. But he made the Lions tour and looked to be playing himself into some decent form before the tests.
He didn’t shine in the first two games, though, and was dropped for Toby Faletau in the third Test.
9. Nic White
White made his Wallabies debut in a drab one-point win over Argentina in the 2013 Rugby Championship and was picked again when Australia went down 28-8 to South Africa.
It was not a wonderful start to a Test career, and it was cut short with the reintroduction of Will Genia to the scrum-half position for the rest of the year.
The Brumbies man is described on the club website as the go-to man for the Wallabies No. 9 shirt, which clearly isn’t the case just yet. He’ll get better.
10. Frederic Michalak
Michalak was picked to play fly-half for France by Philippe Saint-Andre in the Six Nations, and he was awful. France were awful everywhere, but with a player misfiring so badly in a key position such as the No. 10 berth, they were worse than useless.
11. James O’Connor
O’Connor finds himself on the wing here, although he disappointed most publicly at fly-half in the Lions test series for Australia.
He looked like a fish out of water in the No. 10 jersey, which made Quade Cooper’s exile under Robbie Deans all the more mystifying.
The youngster then left Australia to rebuild his reputation with London Irish for the rest of the season.
12. Maxime Mermoz
Mermoz was one of the most highly-rated youngsters to burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s. This year he appeared just three times in a French shirt, all in defeats to Italy, Wales and New Zealand.
He has already played for three clubs, moving from Toulouse to Perpignan and now to Toulon, where developing young French talent is hardly priority No. 1.
A midfield containing him and Wesley Fofana would be a match for any combination in world rugby, but Mermoz seems to have lost his way, at least at Test level.
13. Joel Tomkins
In three autumn internationals, Tomkins looked out of his depth. There were knock-ons, missed tackles and a lack of creativity from the Saracens centre, which did not suggest he will add to his three caps in the near future.
He then picked up a knee injury that ended his 2013 early. It was not a vintage year for him.
14. Chris Ashton
In 2013, Chris Ashton couldn’t find his best form for England with a map and a flashlight. The Saracens man lost his scoring touch and his all-round brilliance to such a degree that only injury kept him in the side by the end of the autumn internationals.
15. Kurtley Beale
This one is a bit harsh, but if you have a bite at the cherry to win a Test against the British and Irish Lions and you blow it, you’re going to disappoint a lot of people.
Beale lost his footing as he took his last-gasp kick to beat the Lions in the first Test, and his penalty attempt missed its target.
His erratic displays on the field were the tip of the iceberg of what has been an eventful 2013 for the talented back.
He reportedly checked himself into a clinic to deal with a drinking issue in May, after landing in hot water for punching two Melbourne Rebels team-mates during a trip to South Africa.