Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, dishes out this year’s awards some good, some bad and some downright ridiculous. Drum roll please……..….
Coach of the Year – Dead heat this one between Rob Baxter, the old school gaffer of Exeter, and the brilliantly under-stated Mark McCall of Saracens. Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones were not far off.
World Rugby got their boss of the year wrong at their shindig in Monaco recently. Eddie Jones got the gong but, as he admitted, England are not the best team in the world, and Steve Hansen should have got it but we reckon the achievements of Baxter and McCall at club level deserve a nod.
Baxter is a proper chap, he has produced a team of local lads with a few imports that have won the Premiership this season for the first time. He is a fish and chips and beers on the bus type of coach although after the final he told he would be treating his boys to pasties and cider on the trip home.
McCall has won two out of the last three Premierships and the last two European Champions and debunked the myth that Saracens buy their way to success. The likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Jamie George all came through the academy and are amongst the best in the world. McCall is not one to blow his own trumpet so we will do it for him.
Player of the Year – Owen Farrell
Six Nations winner, Champions Cup winner Farrell was also of the heroes of the British & Irish Lions drawn series in New Zealand where his kicking kept the tourists in the hunt. We know all about Farrell’s kicking but his running game has come on a bundle and his game management and rugby nous is up there with the best in world. Anyone at Welford Road on Sunday for Saracens 29-17 win over Leicester can testify to that.
How World Rugby gave their player of year award to Beauden Barrett we will never know – Farrell should have walked that one. He drives England, he drives Saracens and he is still only 26. God knows how good he will be when he is 30.
Kick of the year – Henry Slade, Exeter v Saracens, 20 May 2017
Saracens were leading Exeter 16-13 with the clock nearly dead in the Premiership semi-final when referee Wayne Barnes awarded the Chiefs a scrum penalty. Rob Baxter’s men were 65 metres from the Saracens line but Henry Slade pushed them up to within five metres of the whitewash with a massive punt made harder by the swirling winds. Luckily Slade has played a bit of rugby at Sandy Park.
The gutless option would have been to play safe and get the ball to the 22 but that would have made the line out easier to defend. Exeter won the line out, Sam Simmonds rumbled over and all hell broke loose. Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, said it was one of the ‘greatest kicks of all time’ and he was not wrong.
RugbySpy’s day of the year – Argentina v England, San Juan, 10 June 2017
Utter madness. As Fleet Street’s finest ventured into the Fans’ Zone before the game in San Juan in Argentina, we were asked by a local girl if we fancied some free beer. Talk about asking if bears do their business in the woods.
The fans’ area was buzzing and the sponsors’ local brew was going down like the Titanic. In the manner of true professional tabloid reporters however, we made our excuses and left with about to an hour to go to kick-off although the Daily Mail’s dad, who had come to the game as a punter, reported that the place was jumping all the way to the off.
He then had food forced down him by a local during the game when he was surrounded by Argentina fans and didn’t have to put his hand in his pocket all day.
We even saw around 50 England fans braving the heat and the local hospitality and hats off to them for making the trip to South America. The mums and dads were also out in force – the Slades, Devotos, Maunders, Solomonas and Lozowskis were all spotted on game day.
Denny Solomona caused chaos with his last minute try that won the game 38-34 for England and if there are any more Tests in San Juan, count us in.
The Nice Guys Can Coach Award – Stuart Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster’s world was in ruins on that desperate day, 3 October 2015, when England were ejected from their own World Cup and the boss was quickly activating his ejector seat. About a year later, after he had been around the world picking the brains of coaches in all sports Lancaster got a call from the Leinster boss Leo Cullen. Cullen wanted him on board but Lancaster would have a think about it. Then he got a call from Johnny Sexton asking him to come over and that sealed the deal.
Lancaster deserved a break and Cullen, with a bit of help, gave him one. He was not a failure with England and Eddie Jones has constantly praised the foundations he laid with the national team. And he has not been a failure at Leinster, where he has expanded their attacking game, and the players love him. He is one of the good guys and deserves every bit of luck that comes his way.
Biggest Law To Look at Award – the deliberate knock on.
On Sunday Jonny May, the Leicester and England wing, was sent off for two yellow cards against Saracens, both for deliberate knock ons. The referee got Matthew Carley got the calls right and didn’t have much option but to give May his marching orders once the TMO had got involved.
May looked like he was trying to catch the ball on both occasions even if the second one might have been more instinct. When he tried to intercept Michael Rhodes’ inside pass with 11 minutes left he probably fancied his chances of catching it and going the length of the field. Nine times out of 10 the yellows dished out for this offence are for players who are genuinely making an effort to grab the ball. Matt O’Connor, the boss at Leicester, wants the law makers to have a look at this. So do we.
Biggest Screw-Up on an Away Day Award
Rockett and Enge are two of RugbySpy’s greatest mates but sometimes you really do despair. It is like taking a primary school outing with these blokes, who like us, are creeping into middle-age.
The catalogue of their day in Edinburgh for the Champions Cup final in May still makes us chuckle.
The desperate duo met RugbySpy at the ground, for one drink only, before the professionals left to report on one of the great European finals between Saracens and Clermont and then the fun started.
Rockett and Enge went in search of more gargle.
The well-oiled pair, who were flying back that night whilst RugbySpy dined regally in a five star Edinburgh restaurant, managed to leave their house keys, passports, mobile phones, wallets and everything else you need to get about, in the security area at the Scottish airport.
And when they got back to Stansted they were shocked to find they were phoneless and potless. Enge’s missus was even more shocked to find him trying to get into their place, she was expecting a blaze of alarms and a visit from Jack Regan.
Normally, RugbySpy would get a Sunday morning phone call off Rockett to discuss the state of the rugby and cricket nation.
Nish, nada, nothing that Sunday.
No wonder – his phone was north of Hadrian’s Wall.
And Enge had to get the rattler back up Scotland to retrieve their stuff later that week tagging more expense on what had been a pretty costly day out to watch a game of rugby.
What a pair of halfwits.