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Deserved Recognition For Our Women

Deserved Recognition For Our Women

Deserved Recognition For Our Women

BlackFerns_2017_primary

I’M not sure what link rugby has ever had with Monaco, but hey, who needs an excuse for a good party right?

But New Zealand was up in lights in Monte Carlo as our rugby players were amply recognised at the World Rugby Awards for a quite brilliant year across the board, although as always the decisions made by a bunch of former stars left a lot of room for debate.

The choice of Beauden Barrett as World Player of the Year should be celebrated, and he has been, apart from a few kicking lapses midyear, outstanding, but there has been understandable discussion over whether he has been New Zealand’s best player, let alone the world's.

Likewise in the Women’s Sevens where there have been plenty of brilliant moments from the award winner Michaela Blyde, but the likes of Portia Woodman, Tyla Nathan Wong, Sarah Goss and Ruby Tui have also been consistently outstanding.

So hard to choose between that group, but I can’t believe Goss wasn’t a finalist for women’s player of the year in either sevens or fifteens. Talk to people involved in those teams and they’ll tell you how influential she has been.

Having missed out in 2016, Eddie Jones is a fair choice of coach of the year, although it was good of him to acknowledge Steve Hansen - as much as he doesn’t mind throwing out the barbs, Jones has never shied from giving a positive judgement on another coach either.

The selection of the Black Ferns as Team of the Year is fantastic recognition.

It is also a timely boost for women’s rugby, although the referee award to Joy Neville of Ireland is either political or an indictment on the standard of refereeing at the moment.

But hey, debate away, that’s what these things are about.

And I’ll bet it was a heck of a night, with World Rugby footing the bill, although you could ask how long the money spent on the drinks bill would have kept a small rugby playing nation out of the red?

***

The All Blacks finished the year with a meritorious win over Wales.

It’s worth considering that of the 15 players who ran onto Twickenham for the World Cup final two years ago, only Aaron Smith and Sam Whitelock were in the starting 15 for Cardiff, while Sonny Bill Williams, Beauden Barrett and Sam Cane, who started against Wales, were subs for that final.

Of the remaining members from the 23 at Twickenham, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Victor Vito and now Tawera Kerr-Barlow have moved on in various directions, Ben Smith is on sabbatical, Nehe Milner Skudder, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, and Joe Moody are injured, Julian Savea has fallen from favour and Brodie Retallick has been on compassionate leave.

Lob in Luke Romano, Izzy Dagg, Jordi Barrett - oh I’m sure I’ve missed some but I think the point is made.

This has been a massive test of New Zealand’s resources, but also a chance to re-pile the house, do some rewiring, put in a new driveway, sand back the floors and give it a new coat of paint.

There’s no guarantee it will pay dividends in the years ahead, but it should.

Players like Reiko Ioane, Damien McKenzie and Kane Hames, Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu’ungafasi have played a lot more test rugby this year than anyone might have expected  - Hames has been perhaps the unsung achiever of the year and all will surely grow from this experience.

Patrick Tuipulotu seems to be getting back on track, Liam Squire has established himself as weapon, and Vaea Fifita a raw prospect with a high ceiling. 

Throw in the next generation, players like Goodhue, Laumape, Jordi Barrett and Duffie and you have most of the 40 or so players needed to push onto the next World Cup.

There are still question marks. For example Lima Sopoaga didn’t quite nail down the understudy role to Beauden Barrett and will want a big Super Rugby campaign next year to ward off the growing challenge of Richie Mo’unga, and while TJ Perenara has the confidence of the coaching staff, he still has aspects of his game that need polishing.

I mention those names because history has shown you can’t win a World Cup without an accomplished nine and 10 combo, and inevitably, good backup.

And the ALL Black discipline was not what it should have been for much of the season.

Years of badgering by opposition coaches and media have brought the All Blacks under greater scrutiny than ever before, but even so, they contributed greatly to their own difficulties with unnecessary infractions at untimely moments. 

The big upside of the last two tests was the All Black defence, and so a pat on the back for new “d” coach Scott McLeod.

In both games, under heavy pressure, the All Blacks tackled at 90 percent, and held out for extended periods under bombardment inside their 22.

Against Wales the defence was superbly led by Cane and Whitelock, and while any mention of SBW tends to provoke a social media avalanche, his defence through the Rugby Championship and end of year tour has been rock solid.  

There has been much talk this year of the All Blacks not being the force they were two years ago, and it has true that the form this year has been patchy, brilliant when it needed to be, but at times frustrating.

But the time to really judge will be two years from now.