Rugby union 2020 review: Exeter reign supreme amid Covid-19 chaos | Robert Kitson

Reasons to be cheerful at the end of 2020

1) It will soon be 2021.

2) The tantalising prospect – Covid-19-permitting – of a women’s World Cup and a British & Irish Lions summer tour in the coming year.

3) Making rugby a safer game to play and a better game to watch is now top of everybody’s agenda.

Most memorable 2020 outcome

New Zealand 15-25 Argentina – Sydney, 14 November.

Best club games in 2020

1) Exeter Chiefs 31-27 Racing 92, Ashton Gate. A humdinger of a European final.

2) Bristol Bears 38-51 Clermont Auvergne, Ashton Gate. A glorious antidote to some drab autumn internationals.

3) Bristol Bears 22-25 Exeter Chiefs, Ashton Gate (again). A stirring display by Exeter’s dirt-trackers as Storm Francis raged.

Coach/DOR of 2020

1) Rob Baxter (Exeter).
2) Lee Blackett (Wasps).
3) Shaun Edwards (France).

Players of the year

1) Antoine Dupont (Toulouse and France).
2) Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears and England).
3) Sam Simmonds (Exeter)/Jack Willis (Wasps).

Try of the year

1) Justin Tipuric, Wales v England, Twickenham.

2) Jonny May, England v Ireland, Twickenham.

3) Ngani Laumape, Hurricanes v Blues, Wellington.

Inspirational rugby people of the year

1) Matt Ratana.
2) Dan Leo.
3) Nigel Owens.

Favourite interviewees of the year

1=) Emily Scarratt, Simon McIntyre, Kearnan Myall, Pat Lam, Andy Trueman (Erdington RFC). All outstanding ambassadors for their sport.

Rising stars in 2021

1=) Alfie Barbeary (Wasps), Gavin Coombes (Munster), Ioan Lloyd (Bristol).

Quotes of the year

1) “You see us lifting the World Cup and I can see me there jumping around. But I can’t remember it” – England’s 2003 World Cup winner Steve Thompson, who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia at the age of 42.

‘I can’t remember winning the World Cup,’ says Steve Thompson after dementia diagnosis – video

2) “Rugby is great for the soul, but terrible for the body” – Dylan Hartley, former England captain.

3) “It could be argued that the game turning professional in 1996 was the worst thing that could have happened in terms of player welfare” – Bill Ribbans, orthopaedic surgeon.

4) “We’d like to play like Viv Richards used to bat” – England head coach Eddie Jones.

5) “I said to him: ‘Mate, we’ve done it. We’re European champions. What are we going to do now?’ He said: ‘We’re going to do it again, aren’t we?’” – Exeter’s chairman, Tony Rowe, reveals his pitchside conversation with the director of rugby, Rob Baxter, immediately after the Chiefs’ Champions Cup final success.

The Three Degrees award (aka ‘When will we see you again?’)

1) Danny Cipriani.
2) Steve Diamond.
3) Saracens.

Biggest 2020 let-downs

1) The lack of live crowds. You have been hugely missed.

2) Premiership Rugby. Some clear-eyed vision is way overdue.

3) England’s backline fluency. So much talent, currently stuck in an Umbro-designed straitjacket.

Three ways to improve the game in 2021

1) See you later, caterpillar.

2) No box-kicking permitted outside the 22 until the ball has been passed at least once.

3) A maximum of six replacements – not eight – allowed to join the fray.

Three other heartfelt prayers for 2021

1) A vaccine to help revive the semi-professional and community game.

2) Global support and assistance for Steve Thompson, Alix Popham, Michael Lipman, Adam Hughes, Neil Spence and every other retired player diagnosed with early onset dementia.

Rugby union and dementia: is the sport facing a crisis? – video explainer

3) The overdue introduction of a fairer funding model that grants at least 10% of Test gate receipts to the away team.

Next year’s possible British & Irish Lions Test 23 …?

S Hogg (Scotland); L Williams (Wales), H Slade (England), O Farrell (England), J May (England); F Russell (Scotland), C Murray (Ireland); M Vunipola (England), J George (England), T Furlong (Ireland), M Itoje (England), J Ryan (Ireland), T Curry (England), S Underhill (England), T Faletau (Wales). Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (England), R Sutherland (Scotland), K Sinckler (England), AW Jones (Wales), C Doris (Ireland), G Davies (Wales), J Sexton (Ireland), E Daly (England).

Thank you for reading and contributing in 2020 and best wishes to all for Christmas and the year ahead.


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