The 2013 Rugby Year in 35 Pictures

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

The 2013 Rugby Year in 35 Pictures

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    Rugby audiences were spoilt for entertainment in 2013.

    A British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, the Six Nations, a Super Rugby campaign followed up by The Rugby Championship and a Rugby League World Cup were just some of the spectacles on offer.

    Along the way, giants were slain, records uprooted and new legacies founded upon the rubble of old ones in what was a terrific year of worldwide development for the sport.

    And how better to sum up such a glorious year than through the visual medium, with the past 12 months signifying the biggest of 2013's moments ahead.

1. Scotland Get Ugly at the Six Nations

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    Last year brought Scotland one of their most successful Six Nations tournaments in years after managing to score seven tries in the competition for the first time since 2007.

    Kelly Brown helped lead the country to third place in the table for Scotland's best finish since 2006 and a vindication in the belief that Scott Johnson's side was getting back to a more attractive way of things once again.

    It didn't come easily, though Brown's facial expression signifying quite succinctly the approach Scotland will have taken for their campaign.

2. The Ronan O'Gara Era Comes to an End

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    Ronan O'Gara's decline over the last year or so was a noticeable one, with the Ireland staple rapidly giving way to others in the Shamrock squad as his exit came during 2013's Six Nations.

    Far from the figure that once led his nation's line so confidently, O'Gara's dying minutes as an international were left slightly plagued by mistakes and mishaps.

    It was these slips in quality that led to Ireland's eventual fifth-place finish in the table, confirming that it was most certainly time for certain long-term figures in the team to move on.

3. And the Jonny Sexton Era Begins with a Trip

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    However, Jonny Sexton's swearing in as O'Gara's successor went through further development throughout the course of 2013.

    In that space of time, Sexton became the first of Ireland's stars to follow what's become a growing trend among Welsh and English players to opt for a more lucrative move to France's Top 14.

    There, the fly-half has linked up with O'Gara as his kicking coach, with the Paris-based pair now helping to further what could well become normal in rugby's coming regime.

4. Wales Bask in Six Nations Celebrations

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    Wales and England saw out an incredibly tight duel for the Six Nations title in 2013, but it was ultimately a last-gasp push from Warren Gatland's men that ensured the championship remained in Cardiff.

    This triumph meant that the Welsh tied England on four Six Nations trophies apiece, or 26 titles each if one was to include Home Nations and Five Nations tournaments too.

    Despite the plague affecting Wales and their inability to keep their stars within the regions, this victory showed that, as a nation, the side are very much still a global force to be reckoned with.

5. Leinster End Campaign in Pro12 Glory

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    The last five years or so have been massive in terms of Leinster's development as a European power, with the Irish province thrusting themselves into international recognition.

    However, last season's heroics were as much about the domestic success as it was about the triumphs on foreign shores, with their Pro12-winning campaign bringing them their first league title since 2008.

    At the end of it all, the players were understandably in a mood for celebration.

6. Leinster on the European Double

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    However, the rampage didn't end their and while the Boys in Blue may have been unable to clinch another Heineken Cup title, the Amlin Challenge Cup ranks as a very hospitable second option.

    Jamie Heaslip once again led his side from the forefront in Europe, and it was thanks to a lot of the No. 8's fine graft that the club were able to come away from the 2012-13 season with their first European trophy of this sort in hand.

7. Jonny Wilkinson Leads Toulon to Heineken Cup Homecoming

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Toulon's weight as an international powerhouse was thrown about nowhere else more than the Heineken Cup last season, with their May win over Clermont Auvergne showing exactly the winning spirit they possess.

    For all the money spent at the Stade Mayol over the last couple of years, it was one of the club's longer-term figures, Jonny Wilkinson, who once more stood as leader of the French giants, kicking 11 of their 16 points to come out on top in the end.

    The Aviva Stadium bore witness to one of the most historic European finals for some time and was just the second closing match of its kind to be decided by just a one-point margin, with the first coming from Northampton's 9-8 triumph over Munster in 2000.

8. Leicester Tigers' Premiership Prowl a Success

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    One might not have guessed it from the manner in which their 2013-14 season has started, but Leicester Tigers were rampant in their race to the 2012-13 title.

    Having just finished as runners-up to Saracens in the normal season, Richard Cockerill's side ran Harlequins and Northampton Saints ragged in the playoffs.

    After a few years away from their usual dominance of the English ranks, 2013 signified a triumphant return to grace for the Premiership giants.

9. Castres Reach the Top 14's Pinnacle

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Castres may have finished far from the pinnacle of the 2012-13 Top 14 table, but exemplified just how to handle the pressure of a postseason playoff campaign.

    The fourth-place runners-up by no means had an easy route to the French title, cruising past Montpellier and Clermont Auvergne before then getting the better of Toulon in the final, 19-14.

    The Stade de France finale was a last-gasp climax to be remembered, and Castres will count the victory more than any other, it being their first top-flight title for two decades.

10. Kurtley Beale Loses His Footing

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    Even some British and Irish Lions fans will have felt Kurtley Beale's pain as the Australian utility slipped in the dying minutes of their first Test clash over the summer.

    The three points would have not only kept the Wallabies in the game, but potentially go on to seal the series' opening fixture for the hosts.

    Alas, it was not to be, and Beale's quite literal crumbling under the pressure opened the gateway for Warren Gatland's side to claim a vital first victory in June.

11. George North Defies the Natural Laws of the Game

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    Israel Folau enjoyed a 2013 that most could envy—and undoubtedly the best year of development for any Australian international—but it wasn't always so joyful.

    During the Lions' summer mauling of Australia, the Wallabies full-back, then still playing his trade on the wing, was made to look a child thanks to a ridiculous feat of strength on George North's behalf.

    The Northampton Saints' summer signing saw no way around or through the blockade ahead and so took to the obscure, hauling Folau aloft with ball in hand in an attempt to make the necessary ground.

    This particular photo will arguably go down as one of the best British and Irish Lions images ever captured, summing up all of what it is to make the summer selection.

12. Veterans Take Back Seat in Lions' Ecstasy

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    And of course, Gatland's squad would eventually go on to triumph 2-1 in the Test series, giving the Lions their first tour victory of the 21st century.

    However, a highly contentious decision was taken in the third, decisive meeting between two of rugby's titans, as the Lions coach decided to drop Brian O'Driscoll in favour of Jonathan Davies, while Paul O'Connell, also pictured in a suit, sat the decider out through injury.

    The veterans' absence served as a symbol of their generation passing the torch onto the next, and Gatland's decision turned out to be a justified one, with the Lions' new blood prevailing and sending a message for the years to come.

13. The Engine That Could

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    One of those younger stars who cried so loudly as a part of that message was Cardiff Blues and Wales sensation Leigh Halfpenny, who broke the record for points scored on a single Lions tour in 2013.

    The 49 points grabbed across the Lions' three Tests in Australia were enough to eclipse the 41 scored by fellow countryman Neil Jenkins during the 1997 trip to South Africa.

    Although the team's result was the utmost priority, Halfpenny's individual accolade was just another achievement for the 25-year-old to celebrate.

    Big things most certainly do come from small packages.

14. Chiefs Win Back-to-Back Super Rugby Titles

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    Phil Walter/Getty Images

    With their first Super Rugby title coming in 2012, the Chiefs took little time in securing a second championship and becoming just the fourth franchise ever to win back-to-back campaigns in the competition.

    You wouldn't think it to look at him, but "Big" Ben Tameifuna (pictured) was just 21 years of age when the 2013 season started, before going on to lend his side a significant hand in their success.

    Just as he had on the pitch all season long, the youngster would then lead the Chiefs in their post-triumph celebrations, with the objective of winning three titles in a row next on the agenda.

15. George North Becomes a Saint

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    Widely seen as one of Wales' brightest prospects of this generation, George North's high-profile move to the Aviva Premiership was seen as a substantial loss for the Welsh regions, albeit by no means the first of recent years.

    However, to see the 21-year-old Llanelli Scarlets product suit up in the green, gold and black of Northampton Saints was the stark realisation that the regions had truly lost one of their greatest weapons in a deal that could come to pay massive dividends for Jim Mallinder's team.

16. The Bunny Ears That Were Seen Around the World

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    A little bit of harmless fun? Maybe. But it wasn't treated as such by everyone when it became apparent that Manu Tuilagi had taken his trip to No. 10 Downing Street a little too informally.

    Following the Lions' success Down Under, Gatland's squad was invited to the symbolic British landmark for congratulations from the prime minister.

    There, the Tigers and England star did what any rising starlet without a care in the world would do: gave the country's leader a comical pair of bunny ears.

17. The Wallabies Begin the McKenzie Era

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    With Robbie Deans having been dismissed from his duties following the disappointing loss to the Lions on home soil, Ewen McKenzie was appointed Wallabies coach in a substantial shake-up of the Australian hierarchy.

    Five months later and the nation have come on leaps and bounds, but there was no sense of certainty around the head coach's appointment back in July.

    The 48-year-old's shift in squad selection and a peculiar penchant for keeping his team on the pitch during halftime are just some of the aspects that have lent themselves to an ever-improving Wallabies setup. McKenzie looks increasingly confident in the role.

18. Bryan Habana's Rugby Championship Ends in Misery

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Bryan Habana's 2013 featured an admirable assault on matters both club and international, but it was the winger's fine work with South Africa that stood out most.

    At The Rugby Championship, the speedster helped Heyneke Meyer's squad stay in title contention all the way through to the last fixture against New Zealand in Johannesburg.

    However, after scoring two vital tries and handing the Springboks a silverware lifeline, Habana had to pull up with an injury early on in the fixture, preventing him from having any further impact on a match that he would undoubtedly affected for the better.

19. South Africa Come Up Short in "The Final"

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    And it was South Africa who would come out as losers in a match termed simply as "The Final," which will be remembered as one of the finest encounters of any variety in this sport.

    From the first minute to the last, Meyer's men fought for their chance to strip the All Blacks of their title, but a 38-27 victory ran in favour of the Coca-Cola Park visitors.

    Jean de Villiers and Ma'a Nonu reigned as centres supreme for their respective sides throughout the tournament, with this picture showcasing the titanic collision in its most literal sense. 

20. Tasman Triumph in ITM Cup Championship

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    Tasman's ITM Cup final win over Hawke's Bay wasn't a complete shock given that the Makos had come out on top of the Championship standings and dished out a 49-28 thumping of Southland in their semi-final victory.

    However, what was tense was the 26-25 extravaganza that unfolded at Trafalgar Park back in October, Marty Banks in particular leading his side to an emphatic triumph over tough opposition.

21. Canterbury Maintain Their ITM Cup Dominance

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    In the Premiership stakes, Canterbury went in the opposite direction to Tasman in that they finished as runners-up in the table standings, but would eventually go on to complete the underdog success in the end, regardless.

    The province's 29-13 win over Wellington in the Westpac Stadium finale extended Canterbury's ITM Cup streak to six consecutive championships, with New Zealand's power balance running even further in their favour.

22. London Irish Confirm James O'Connor Coup

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    Following his exile from the Australian Rugby Union, out-of-contract James O'Connor made the switch to the Northern Hemisphere in 2013, signing up with London Irish for the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign.

    Although his departure from the Super Rugby competition was far from as amorous as the youngster may have liked, the Premiership club's capture of such a prodigious talent served as a firm statement of intent on their part and was a big coup for English rugby on the whole.

23. Sydney Roosters Sign off NRL Campaign with a Crow

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    Although there are those who can't wait to see him back in Super Rugby participation, Sonny Bill Williams is concentrating his efforts around the National Rugby League at the moment—and doing a very good job of it at that.

    The temporary former All Black was one of, if not, the main spearhead behind the Sydney Roosters' push for the 2013 NRL championship, winning the title at the first time of asking upon his return to rugby league.

    From New Zealand to France to Australia and back again, there's a countdown ticking down to the 28-year-old's return to the Chiefs in 2015, per Stuff.

24. Wigan Warriors End Super League Chase with a Bang

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    Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

    On the same weekend that the Southern Hemisphere's greatest rugby league honour was decided, the Super League tournament also reached its climax, with Wigan Warriors coming out on top of the pile once again.

    Reclaiming the crown that they hadn't seen since 2010, Wigan's 2013 was prolific and also brought them the Challenge Cup, with a star-studded cast of English superstars at their disposal.

    The Old Trafford crescendo saw Shaun Wane's outfit triumph over Warrington Wolves, 30-16, capping off a tremendous season for a side as heralded as any other in terms of rugby league credentials.

25. Third Time's the Charm for New Zealand's Bledisloe Cup Fortunes

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    Phil Walter/Getty Images

    New Zealand's unbeaten 2013 campaign stopped for nobody and nothing, least of all the All Blacks' bitter rivals Australia.

    In the calendar year, Steve Hansen's side overcame their cross-Tasman rivals no less than three times, two of which came in The Rugby Championship and the last being a separate contest leading up the November internationals.

    Overall, New Zealand boast an aggregate 2013 score of 115-78 over the Wallabies for last year's Bledisloe Cup clashes, which serves as just another testament to the claim that this might be the best All Blacks side of all time.

26. England's 2013 Ends with Positives for Stuart Lancaster

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    Stuart Lancaster's England side may have missed out on the Six Nations trophy at the start of the year, but there were plenty more positives to take in come December.

    After a successful summer trip to Argentina during which the nation blooded numerous young talents, the QBE internationals gave England a chance to strut their stuff, winning two of the three outings and just coming up short against a nigh-indomitable New Zealand team.

    However, wins over Australia and Argentina (again) showed signs that the English talent pool was expanding once again, with quality players competing to be included in each position and a very promising outlook for 2014 rising as a result.

27. The Try That Would End England's Rugby League World Cup Hopes

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    Of all the people who would slip up at the most crucial moment in a fixture, few would have bet that it could be captain Kevin Sinfield who lost his cool in the dying seconds of England's 2013 Rugby League World Cup semi-final against the Kiwis.

    However, following a brief lapse in defensive scrutiny, the English icon was exposed and Shaun Johnson took full advantage, side-stepping the final defender before gliding over for the try that ended the hosts' hopes of winning the tournament on home soil.

28. The Method Behind the Madness

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    Phil Walter/Getty Images

    One might argue that the gloriously unprecedented 13-match winning streak achieved by the All Blacks in 2013 may not have been possible without coach Steve Hansen or captain Richie McCaw.

    Here, the two national heroes greet each other as if to be caught in some sort of telepathic mind-meld, none of us mere mortals worthy of witnessing the ingenuity that's boiling within.

    McCaw, bruised and battered, stands alongside the spotless tactician who's made New Zealand's next era of triumph look so possible.

29. All Blacks Celebrate a Triumphant 2013

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    Phil Walter/Getty Images

    But there's of course more to such feats than just two men alone.

    New Zealand's 2013 built off the back of 2011's historic Rugby World Cup win and took the positives from 2012's unbeaten Rugby Championship, and once again used those experiences to their advantage to improve once more.

    Old faces and new impressed over the course of the 12-month period as the Southern Hemisphere giants shunted a path past all who stood in their way that not many virtuous enough to even threaten for long.

30. Australia Reclaim Their Rugby League World Cup Title

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    Having lost the title in shock fashion over five years ago, Australia brought the Rugby League World Cup back to Oz this past November.

    In the build-up to the final clash against New Zealand, some supposed that another shock win for the Kiwis was in the cards, but it wasn't meant to be.

    In the end, the Kangaroos stormed their way to glory in unstoppable fashion, thumping their rivals into submission by a scoreline of 34-2.

    As a result, the world title was returned to its rightful owners, and the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis got their just rewards for years of hard work for the cause. 

31. Sonny Bill Williams Left Wanting

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    One person who will have felt the final's loss as sorely as anyone else was 2013 Player of the Year Sonny Bill Williams.

    The New Zealand star failed to show up in the Old Trafford send-off, and one would have to say that Stephen Kearney's side hardly deserved to retain the title. 

    Nevertheless, this will be one code that Williams never gets to dominate.

32. Steve Hansen Coaches Barbarians to Victory

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    Hansen is by no means limited to leading just one group of individuals to greatness, however, and it was only six days after his New Zealand squad had tied up their 13th victory of 2013 at the Aviva Stadium that the mentor was once again at the helm, this time with the Barbarians.

    Exemplifying all that rugby is about, the All Blacks' helmsman led the Baa Baas to a 43-19 battering of Fiji before lining up alongside Jean de Villiers for this victory photo in the moments after.

    Despite the fact that de Villiers had been one of the prime players striving so hard to strip his New Zealand team of their Rugby Championship trophy just a few weeks previous, the pair remain gracious enough to work alongside one another—and to great effect at that.

33. Oxford Win Fourth Consecutive Varsity Title

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    University rugby may not quite be on the same level as the international practice, but the Varsity Match is nonetheless an annual occasion that any can take an interest in, and this year once again went in Oxford's favour.

    With 2013's win in tow, the Blues are fast clawing back the deficit that's emerged between them and Cambridge over the years, the latter now boasting just four more wins (61) than their bitter foes.

34. Sam Tomkins Officially a New Zealand Warrior

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    His undeniable talent always meant that Sam Tomkins was bound to attract the attention of rugby league's higher powers, but the former Wigan Warrior's departure will have felt no more crushing than when his New Zealand Warrior arrival was made official just a few weeks ago.

    The England full-back possesses a full range of skills that's bound to make as much of, if not more, a sensation in the Southern Hemisphere than he was north of the equator.

    One of his country's best exports in recent memory, Tomkins is set to take Rugby League by storm, with the 2014 campaign not far on the horizon.

35. Kieran Read's 2013 Celebrated with Silverware

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    Read with the Kelvin R. Tremain Player of the Year award
    Read with the Kelvin R. Tremain Player of the Year awardFiona Goodall/Getty Images

    If New Zealand's fortitude throughout 2013 was a voyage, than Kieran Read stood as captain of that ship, leading the All Blacks every step of the way.

    The No. 8 was recently recognised as IRB Player of the Year—and rightly so—bringing the expectations of one in his position up a notch and showing that even the man at the back of the scrum can possess the hands of a centre and the finishing of a wing.

    The Crusaders monolith can now only hope that 2014 holds as much in store as he continues to grow, not just as a player but as a beacon in one of the most powerful rugby organisations in the world.