2020 has been brutally painful, no question. The lifeblood of rugby, the fans and the grassroots club game, have been silent since March.
We hoped that when international rugby returned in the autumn that might raise the spirits. Argentina’s victory over the All Blacks and some exciting Tri-Nations contests did a little, with the help of large crowds because New Zealand and Australia had actually dealt with Covid-19 in a halfway competent manner.
But world champions South Africa were missing, so it wasn’t the same. The Six Nations petered out meekly when it returned. The Autumn Nations Cup, hastily arranged so the unions could sell TV rights for much needed revenue, was even caulder kale.
I’ve seldom been as depressed at a Murrayfield rugby international than Scotland and France in November – worlds apart from their pulsating game in front of a full house in February. And I once covered a game when Scotland were beaten 68-10.
There were a few bright sparks in 2020, but let’s face it, we’re hoping these choices below will be a little more difficult in 2021. Get that Oxford vaccine out there quick and let’s start playing again.
World player of the year
Antoine Dupont, Toulouse and France. One brilliant display after another by the inspired young scrum-half, lasting from January’s Heineken Cup to a blistering solo try in the Top14 just last week.
Even in the one duff game he had, at Murrayfield, he conjured a brilliant try for his team with vision and skill.
Scotland player of the Year
We dealt with this last week. Prop Rory Sutherland, for his consistent excellence as well as his remarkable comeback story, was clearly the outstanding Scot this year.
Team of the season
France. From their usual chaos at the end of the Rugby World Cup, France were transformed into the best team in the world by mid-March. Dupont, Romain N’Tamack, and captain Charles Ollivon were standouts while Fabien Galthie has purged the psychos and trusted in a fine crop of talented young players.
Had N’Tamack not clumsily tackled Sam Johnson and got himself concussed early on at Murrayfield, France would probably have won the Six Nations Grand Slam. Their second XV deserved to beat England’s first team in the final international game of the year.
World game of the season
Argentina 25 New Zealand 15. In Sydney, in front of a less the half-full stadium, definitely the most seismic result of the year.
New Zealand duly won the return 38-0 and the Tri-Nations, but the Pumas’ first victory over the ABs will still be the game most remembered.
Scotland game of the season
The first sign of Covid-19 was in the air – a French fan attending the game was one of the first hospitalised in Scotland with the virus.
But we cling to the memory of simpler times with a full house at Murrayfield, a rollicking home display to beat probably the best team in the world in 2020, and France’s only defeat in the year until their very last game.
Edinburgh game of the season
There were exciting, attractive performances in the Challenge Cup pre-lockdown. But given Richard Cockerill’s general disdain for that competition let’s give it to Edinburgh’s most recent game, the 16-15 Heineken Champions Cup win at Sale.
It wasn’t remotely pretty, coming back from 12-0 down against a Gallagher Premiership title hopeful. But it was a welcome reminder of how dogged and difficult Cockers has made the capital side.
Glasgow game of the season
It’s an indication of how well 2020 has gone for the Warriors that the best game of the year was in the first week; the breath-taking HCC 31-31 draw with eventual champions Exeter Chiefs.
Three tries each in the first half, four lead changes, and a last kick penalty (just the first of Romain Poite’s many dodgy decisions during the year) with former Warrior Stuart Hogg rattling the crossbar from 60 metres.
Try of the Season
Due to one thing and another, Scotland got barely an hour out of their best player of the moment during 2020. But Finn Russell has been flying for Racing 92 all year, and he twice played the pivotal role in this try.
You could pick from ten or more scores by Racing in 2020. But the decisive try in the Heineken Cup semi-final against champions Saracens, with Russell involved twice, was the best given its timing and importance.
Scotland try of the season
Scotland’s other world-class back, captain and totem showed why he’s still worth anyone’s entrance money (when we’re all allowed back in) with his searing solo try in Rome.
Edinburgh try of the season
A week out from the Six Nations, Darcy Graham was on fire with four tries against Agen in the Challenge Cup.
The fourth – he looks like he’s been photoshopped in at a different speed than everyone else – was my favourite. Alas, he was injured in training the following week and hasn’t quite been at his fiery best since.
Glasgow try of the season
Back in that Exeter game, just before half-time, Adam Hastings opened a gap in Exeter’s famed defence and George Horne was on his shoulder. The injury absence of the livewire scrum-half from Cupar has been one of the chief depressions of post-lockdown rugby.