The 2013 SA Rugby Awards
With another year of excitement, fun and surprises in the rugby world coming to an end, we take a look back on the last 12 months, rewarding the good and bad in equal measure with SA Rugby's end-of-year awards.
It's a tongue-in-cheek look at the past year so please don't take it seriously. At least, not all of it!
International Player of the Year: Kieran Read (Crusaders and New Zealand)
We had no problems agreeing with the IRB on their selection of Kieran Read as Player of the Year for 2013. Read missed only the Test in Japan this year and scored six tries in the 13 matches that he did play in for the All Blacks, but it's not about the numbers.
The Crusaders number eight has an uncanny ability when it comes to running the perfect support lines, producing key turnovers and scoring when it counts. His leadership has been outstanding, his character and athletic ability a credit to the sport. In a year where Ben Smith and Leigh Halfpenny were both excellent, Read was just better. The best player in the world.
South African Player of the Year: Jean de Villers (Western Province, Stormers and South Africa)
The Springbok captain's form in 2013 was arguably his best in the green and gold jersey since he made his debut way back in 2002. De Villiers' play, especially on attack, has been refreshing this season and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer's decision to appoint him as captain has proved to be a masterstroke as the 96-Test veteran's inspirational play and decision-making under pressure has been among the standout features of the Boks' campaign this year.
Comeback team of the year: The Lions
After they were relegated from the Super Rugby competition in 2012 things looked bleak for the men from Johannesburg. They were in the wilderness throughout this year's tournament but did well to beat the Kings - in their play-off over two legs - and will be return to take their place amongst the southern hemisphere's best sides in 2014.
Team of the Year: New Zealand
14 wins from 14 Tests and the most tries scored by a Tier One nation with 51. Who else could it be but the All Blacks?
Newcomer of the Year: Israel Folau (Waratahs and Australia)
So much for the former Rugby League and AFL star settling into Union. Israel Folau finished his first year in the game with ten tries for the Wallabies, equalling Lote Tuqiri's annual record, while also finishing second for tries scored in Super Rugby with eight for the Waratahs.
His ability under the high ball is second to none and Australia can now build around him ahead of the next Rugby World Cup. An astonishing athlete.
Coach of the Year: Dave Rennie (Chiefs)
Back-to-back Super Rugby titles is some achievement for Rennie and the Chiefs, whose attacking style of play at times was mesmerising. Questions lingered before the start of this year's campaign whether the Waikato outfit could taste glory for a second year without the presence of Sonny Bill Williams in midfield, but he was barely missed.
Under Rennie's guidance the Chiefs scored more tries than any other team (54) and were the second best tackling team in the competition. With Liam Messam, Aaron Cruden et al there again next season, a third successive title is on the cards.
SA coach of the year: Brad Macleod-Henderson
Took over the reins along with Sean Everitt at the Durban-based franchise after John Plumtree's departure during the Super Rugby campaign and steered them to seventh spot on the table. Was then appointed head coach of the Sharks' Currie Cup campaign and guided them to Currie Cup success. Not bad for someone in his first season as a provincial coach.
Rugby Championship Player of the Year: Ben Smith (Highlanders and New Zealand)
This writer was hollering for Ben Smith to be named IRB Player of the Year back at the end of The Rugby Championship, when all it seemed he could do was score tries. He scored so many in fact that he broke the Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship record previously held by Christian Cullen and Bryan Habana.
Smith's eight tries in six matches represent a brilliant landmark and a credit to his outstanding year. Smith made more metres in Super Rugby than any other player with 1427 and beat the second highest number of defenders with 57. The way he seamlessly slotted into the outside centre role during the November Tests was unsurprising.
Super Rugby Player of the Year: Liam Messam (Chiefs)
Christian Leali'ifano had a stellar year for the high-flying Brumbies and was brilliant in the final, but we couldn't ignore the Chiefs co-captain. Messam was the inspiration for a series of excellent performances from the defending champions as they marched towards another title.
He made the third highest number of tackles in the competition with 217, but Messam's carrying ability was also first-rate and he was a huge figure in the line-out. Ten points down with time running out in the final at Waikato Stadium, Messam's try off the base of the scrum swung momentum back towards the hosts before Robbie Robinson's score sealed successive titles. An inspiration.
Currie Cup Player of the Year: Pieter-Steph du Toit
The young lock left his mark on South Africa's premier provincial competition with some superb performances which helped the Sharks reclaim the Currie Cup title which they last won in 2010. Du Toit missed most of the Sharks' Super Rugby campaign but was out to prove a point when he returned.
His form in the Currie Cup was rewarded with a call-up to the Springbok squad for their end-of-year tour to Europe and he also won the man-of-the-match award in the Sharks' victory over Western Province in the final.
Try of the Year: Colin Slade, Highlanders v Sharks
Few words needed here. The Highlanders may have finished 14th in Super Rugby, but they served up some sizzling attacking play and this was the pick of the bunch from Colin Slade.
Currie Cup Try of the Year: Gio Aplon, Western Province v Golden Lions
The Bok flyer got the WP faithful off their seats in the semi-final at Newlands. The full-back received the ball in a crowded midfield close to the halfway line and set off on a mazy run, in which he beat several defenders, before showing a superb turn of speed before scoring in the corner.
The superb piece of individualism came at a critical juncture in the match and helped set up victory which clinched Province's place in the final.
Match of the Year: South Africa 27-38 New Zealand, Ellis Park, 5 October
One for the ages. The Springboks came into this fixture with a mathematical chance of taking The Rugby Championship away from New Zealand, but only if they picked up maximum points and prevented the All Blacks from earning a single point of their own. Tendai Mtawarira's 50th cap was a thriller marked by Ben Smith breaking the try scoring record for the tournament with his eighth score.
Bryan Habana scored an excellent brace before limping off, with Liam Messam scoring twice himself to put New Zealand 21-15 ahead at half-time. Tries from Willie Le Roux and Jean de Villiers then secured the try bonus-point South Africa required, but Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read replied with two tries in four minutes to seal a second successive title for the All Blacks in a breathless game, with referee Nigel Owens hailed afterwards for his performance.
Achievement of the Year: New Zealand
The All Blacks reached new heights, and set new standards in 2013, when they won all 14 Tests they played in during 2013. It's a phenomenal achievement which has not been done since the game turned professional in 1996.
Offload of the Year: Tamati Ellison, Highlanders v Crusaders
We told you the Highlanders were fun to watch. This piece of skill from Tamati Ellison was so good we even created an award for it.
Biggest hit of the Year: Bismarck du Plessis, South Africa v New Zealand
By tackling the man who is arguably the game's greatest ever fly-half - All Black pivot Dan Carter - the Bok hooker managed to do what only a few players have done during the past decade. Du Plessis' tackle, during the Rugby Championship clash in Auckland, was a sight to behold and forced Carter off the field through injury.
Just a pity referee Romain Poite saw it differently by sending Du Plessis to the sin bin - and spoling the game - for what he saw as an illegal hit.
Top Try Scorer: Ben Smith, 11 tries in 14 Tests for New Zealand
A second award for Smith, who pipped Folau to finish with the most Test tries in 2013. Three of them came in one match - against Australia in Sydney back in August. The Highlanders' flyer also scored braces against the Wallabies in Wellington and against Argentina in La Plata.
Hang Up Your Boots Award: Felipe Contepomi
Felipe Contepomi's good work for Argentina included that astonishing third-place finish at the Rugby World Cup in 2007, with the former Pumas captain bowing out as his country's most capped player (87) and record points scorer (651). Contepomi also enjoyed a successful club career with Bristol, Leinster, Toulon and Stade Français.
Soundbite Award: Heyneke Meyer (South Africa)
If it's clichés you want, Heyneke Meyer is most certainly your man. The Springboks head coach certainly enjoyed a successful year and kept up his good work behind the microphone. Who knows what would have happened if Meyer hadn't told his players to put their bodies on the line for their country or to "keep our feet on the ground." Perhaps South Africa would have just not tackled and then soared into the dizzying heights of arrogant bliss.
Quote of the Year: Peter de Villiers (UWC)
"His defence is brilliant and when he cleans you out at a ruck you're likely not to remember your second name! The Bulls won't be able to get under his skin."
The former Bok mentor was waxing lyrical - as only he can - about Western Province's new lock Taz Fuzani, who he coached in the Varsity Shield, ahead of the player's Currie Cup debut against the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
Dedication Award: Netani Talei (Fiji)
Matches organised outside the IRB window for clubs to release players always cause consternation, but denying Fiji the full range of their stars in a match against the Barbarians at Twickenham to mark the 100th anniversary of Fijian Rugby was frustrating. Not that it mattered to Netani Talei. The Dragons number eight played 80 minutes for his club on the Friday night before travelling up to Twickenham the next day to play another 80 minutes for his country. Unreal.
Party Animal Award: Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs)
The shots of Ben Tameifuna covered in champagne after winning a second Super Rugby title were just awesome. The prop has come a long way in the last two years and now is targeting an All Blacks spot ahead of the next Rugby World Cup. Still 22 and now having taken up boxing in order to get into the right condition, he's one to keep an eye on.
Media Star Award: Nick Cummins (Australia)
The man with the golden curly locks turns out to be an excellent interviewer. "I've never had a problem with thinking too much" is a fine personal assessment from Cummins on himself, who also turns out to be handy behind the microphone and happy enough to criticise his team-mates for not passing him the ball enough. Good work from the Honey Badger.
Compiled by Ben Coles (@bencoles_) and David Skippers (@David_Skipster)