Well, after a week of my sabbatical, up I pop with what I promise you 100%, is my final blog of the year!!!
I always do my year end report card, normally rounding up the Premiership teams and grading them on their performances thus far, however I am going to break that tradition this year and simply do the winners and losers of 2015.
In no particular order....
The New Zealand All Blacks
Their third world cup victory was their first on foreign soil. They became the first side to hold the trophy three times. McCaw was the first man to lift the trophy twice. They were the first side to ever defend the trophy. Pretty bloody good really.
Now come on, Scotland fans, admit it....you wanted Greig dropped in the 6 Nations. Social media was buzzing with people calling for 'slow' Laidlaw to be dropped for Hidalgo-Clyne throughout the spring tournament . Since then though, Greig has been a standout for both Gloucester and Scotland, winning the European Challenge cup and spearheading Scotland's world cup campaign, often carrying the side on his shoulders, and it all culminated in a World Player of the year nomination. He's had some mighty fine performances and deservedly makes this list.
Once pilloried as an exhuberant spending yet boring side, they now have installed a side of home grown grafters and an attacking instict that saw them not only clinch the Premiership title, but also see's them as currently the only unbeaten side in the Northern Hemisphere. Watching the final, all the talk was Ford vs Farrell, and the Saracens man outshone and outplayed his Bath counterpart but the Vunipola's, Maro Itoje Jamie George et al were all instrumental in the win. Saracens continued growth as a club, and their capacity to bring the best out of players, can only be a good thing for the Prremiership, and England rugby!
Made himself some decent cash. Spending christmas newly married and in the sunshine. Got to be good hey!
The Warriors were mightily impressive in the Pro 12 last season, culminating in winning the title. They looked unstoppable at times and they brought some long overdue smiles to the faces of a lot of Scottish rugby fans.
The World Cup 2015 organisers.
What a grand job they did. One of the best financial successes in the professional rugby era. Complaints about ticket prices were vocal and very fair, but the stadia were full, the atmospheres were exceptional. Despite the home nations failing miserably, the tournament will long stay in the memory. I went to 3 matches and the whole of the experiences I shared with my dad, my stepson and my best mate will be something I will remember forever. And that's brilliant, because that's what rugby is about.
Stuart Lancaster, his coaching team and the England rugby squad.
No explaination needed really. England were largely awful this year, except for the game against France in the 6 Nations and the wholly underwhelming nature of their capitulation at the world cup cost the coaching team their jobs, and it's highly likely that it will see the playing staff shaken up under the new Eddie Jones era.
Rugby fans everywhere
We lost some stars this year, some to retirement, or at least to international retirements, and some we sadly lost on a more permanant basis. Jonah Lomu and Jerry Collins both passed away at relatively young ages, both in tragic circumstances. We also lost Stephen Engel from our #rugbyunited family. It's not been a great year for people passing away from our rugby family, but I take comfort in knowing that Jerry, Jonah and Stephen are sharing a beer and talking rugby up in heaven.
Scandal after scandal, allegation after allegation. It's not been a great year for Bath. Heavy investment in the squad, legally or otherwise, got them to the Playoff finals, which as mentioned earlier, they lost to Saracens, but the Burgess saga, the accusation of salary cap breach, and underperforming in the start of the new season, has made a few people wonder if the much vaunted, star laden Bath squad is the real deal or not. Time will tell on this one, you certainly wouldn't write Bath off of a top 4 finish!
There are many new stories waiting to happen in 2016, starting with the 6 nations. Who will be the winners and losers in 2016? Only time will tell and it's gonna be great fun watching to find out!
My 2015 in rugby was, personally, amazing, and it mostly revolves around hashtags. #Rugbyunited is the first and foremost, #weartherose was another great experience (that I'll be sticking with in 2016) and also being part of the Premierships #bloggersbench. Away from #, the World cup was amazing. Running the @RugbyFiji account briefly was so fulfilling, interacting with the Fijian public from thousands of miles away, seeing Gloucester recover from a poor season to with the European challenge cup, commentating for Rugby Radio, being asked to write for magazines and other blogs, seeing my #JeffsaKnob blog absolutely blow up on Twitter, watching firsthand the seeds we'd sewn for #rugbyaid come into fruition, it has been a slightly mad year, but I wouldn't change it for all the tea in China!
Thanks to all the blog readers and especially, the writers, to all the people who use the hashtag, everyone in the Facebook groups, to all the people I've shared a story, a tweet, a beer or a game of rugby with, you make this so much fun, and it's the reason I'm taking a break rather than quitting. You're all brilliant and I hope you have a great 2016!