It’s that time of the year again when World Rugby feels festive and announces its nominees for the annual World Rugby Awards. The latest news sees the coach and team line-ups announced.
Coach of the Year nominees
Rassie Erasmus – South Africa
Having left a strong Munster outfit to take over a rather shaky Springboks outfit, one could forgive Erasmus if results hadn’t immediately gone his way. But they have. Having turned around a South African team with political issues to one that has won their first Rugby Championship.
If they defeat Eddie Jones’ England on Saturday, they willll be the first side to win the World Cup having lost a game on the route to the final.
Warren Gatland – Wales
The departing Welsh coach has had a final year to remember. Winning a memorable Grand Slam in Cardiff, rising to number one for the first time and achieving his second semi-final with the nation.
It takes guts to have the longevity that Gatland has had with Wales and that has given him his just desserts. A win over the All Blacks would be the cherry on the cake.
Eddie Jones – England
Eddie Jones has transformed England into the dominant force within world rugby. They removed the All Blacks from their perch at the top of the mountain and are the favourites to lift the World Cup for the second time in their history.
Having only lost the Six Nations due to 40 bad minutes in Cardiff, defeating Ireland by a record margin in the RWC warm up matches and going to the World Cup final with the third youngest squad at the competition is some feat.
Jamie Joseph – Japan
Jamie Joseph’s men won over the hearts and minds of fans worldwide with their knockout stage run at their own World Cup.
Having played a vibrant and brave brand of rugby, it truly reflected the Japanese culture and furthered their claim for inclusion in the Rugby Championship, or possibly Six Nations.
A Pacific Nations Cup victory, where they went unbeaten is also a mark of how far Joseph has brought the Cherry Blossoms . No longer are they just a plucky underdog defeating the Springboks in Brighton, they’re a world rugby contender.
Steve Hansen – New Zealand
Now, 2019 hasn’t been a vintage one for the All Blacks, given the nature of their recent high standards.
They completed another World Cup pool stage without defeat and cruised past a limp Irish outfit before coming to their match at the hands of Jones’ England.
This after a Rugby Championship that saw them slide to third following a defeat to Australia and a draw with the Springboks. They did, however, retain the Bledisloe Cup.
Team of the Year
40 minutes of rugby were the difference between England lifting the Grand Slam crown and Wales, who eventually took home the bacon. Eddie Jones has got this side playing scintillating rugby and quality rugby at that.
A World Cup final run that included solid performances against Argentina and a tactical masterclass against Australia would have been enough for English fans to be proud.
Jones took them to that next level by slaughtering the All Blacks and now they have the ultimate prize in their sight, the Rugby World Cup.
Six Nations winners, Grand Slam extraordinaires and semi-finalists at the World Cup. Not a bad goodbye year for Warren Gatland and his side.
Of course, Wales won’t be going away, but they do have some great memories to take from this year, including being ranked number one for the first time. Even if it was for only two weeks.
Jamie Joseph’s men have risen to the top in 2019, proving themselves as a tier one country in all but listing.
An unbeaten Pacific Nations Cup campaign, including a bonus point win over the Fijians is no mean feat. But, to back that up with a superb World Cup with notable victories over Ireland and Scotland on home turf have elevated this team to their highest ever ranking, eighth.
Steve Hansen’s men may have lost their grip on the William Webb Ellis trophy, one they have held onto tightly since their 2011 victory, but they haven’t lost the power or the aura they bring to the table.
They have retained the Bledisloe Cup for a seventeenth straight year and have won seven out of their ten games in 2019.
They also extended their record run of World Cup games to 18, before it came to an end with a cancelled game (result goes down as a draw) against Italy.
The Rugby Championship champions and Rugby World Cup finalists have looked brutal on their way to both finals. Their only loss this year came at the hands of New Zealand in the RWC pool stages and only the All Blacks took points off them in the Rugby Championship with a draw.
They have risen back to number two in the world by reaching the final, a position they haven’t held for over four years.
“Main photo credit”