Chris Foy"s highs and lows of 2012 in rugby union

It's been a funny old year, so here are the highs and lows of an unforgettable 2012



00:10 GMT, 28 December 2012

At the end of a year that featured so many remarkable, inspirational sporting feats, this column presents the rugby highlights and lowlights – the good, bad and ugly of 2012.

These are a mixture of the conventional and bizarre, the well-known and obscure. Above all, this is a personal selection of memories, not an exhaustive, comprehensive record of the last 12 months. Here goes:

Player of the Year: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. It has been said here before and it is worth saying again – Argentina's back-row captain is simply without equal.

Stand-out: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is Sportsmail's Chris Foy's Player of 2012

Stand-out: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is Sportsmail's Chris Foy's Player of 2012

Try of the Year: To jog the memory, Sky provided a useful shortlist. Based on their eye-catching selection, the one that stands out is from New Zealand's ITM Cup; Hawke's Bay wing Gillies Kaka against Bay of Plenty.

Sheer counter-attacking audacity and predatory class.

Performance of the Year (team): It is still vividly fresh in the mind, almost a month on. England beating the seemingly invincible All Blacks with a three-try swagger was the ultimate collective feat.

Performance of the Year (individual): In England's win over France in Paris in March, Tom Croft reached standards even beyond what he delivered for the Lions in 2009.

The Tigers flanker scored a scorching try, dominated the lineout, carried superbly, tackled, hit rucks, the lot. Upsets of the year: Harlequins losing to Connacht in Galway and Edinburgh ambushing the mighty Toulouse at Murrayfield in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

Invincible England hammered New Zealand at Twickenham

Invincible England hammered New Zealand at Twickenham

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Best Test newcomers: Craig Gilroy (Ireland), Eben Etzebeth (South Africa), Michael Hooper (Australia), Joe Launchbury (England), Tim Visser (Scotland).

Best game covered: South Africa v England in Johannesburg. Springbok fervour in the stands and ferocity on the field, England hit to near-oblivion, then reviving to nearly conjure a stunning win.

Best nickname revelations: Dan Cole (Polar Bear) – 'It's a large Arctic creature, fur as white as my skin.'

Toby Flood, during Movember: 'I'm told I look like the lead singer of Metallica.' (He meant Lemmy from Motorhead!)

Worst match conditions: Plenty of contenders, but it has to be Australia v Scotland in June. The visitors prevailed in a monsoon far more reminiscent of a wild night at Murrayfield than the usually balmy surrounds of the New South Wales coast.

Agonising defeat: Ireland deserved a maiden win over New Zealand during their second Test in June but after Jonny Sexton missed a penalty at 19-19 in Christchurch, Dan Carter's last-minute drop goal saw the All Blacks home.

Worst celebration: Seconds after Scotland clinched their famous win that night, the players formed a bouncing huddle, but when Joe Ansbro and Alasdair Strokosch leapt on to it, their clash of heads left Ansbro with blood pouring from an eye wound and he missed his country's next game.

Amusing ambush: Roger Lewis, chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, offering to stage the England v Wales World Cup 2015 pool game in Cardiff, just minutes after the draw had pitched the bitter rivals together. The host nation didn't take long to reject his 'kind offer'.

Polar bear: Dan Cole has acquired a nickname because of his size and fair hair

Polar bear: Dan Cole has acquired a nickname because of his size and fair hair

New buzz-phrase: 'Work-ons'. England's new coaching team have wholeheartedly adopted it. Bad day for defences: Heineken Cup – Northampton 36 Munster 51.

Worrying trend: Exodus of Welsh players to French clubs, amid economic turmoil.

Drawn-out farce of the Year No 1: Promotion of London Welsh to the Premiership. Having won the Championship but failed to satisfy the Minimum Standards Criteria, both the Exiles and Newcastle were kept hanging on until the decision was eventually reversed on appeal in July.

Drawn-out farce of the Year No 2: England coach recruitment. While Stuart Lancaster was put in charge without too much fuss after his convincing Six Nations audition, the RFU were slack in pursuing Andy Farrell, then snubbed by Wayne Smith before Farrell's re-think.

Surreal news day: Wasps had just staged a press conference in a pub by Ealing Common when the TV rights war erupted in September. It was nearly closing time when the last words had been filed.

Best new overseas imports: Kahn Fotuali'i (Ospreys), Vereniki Goneva (Leicester).

Dead ringer: Toby Flood was told he looked like the lead singer of Motorhead when sporting his 'Movember' facial hair

Dead ringer: Toby Flood was told he looked like the lead singer of Motorhead when sporting his 'Movember' facial hair

Most difficult phone call: Warren Gatland ringing his long-time sidekick Shaun Edwards to tell him that he would not be part of the Lions coaching staff next summer.

Favourite fans: Clermont, Munster and Ulster.

Grounds for complaint No 1: When there was a rare burst of snow in Rome prior to England's Six Nations encounter with Italy, ground-staff made a feeble attempt to clear the surface at the Stadio Olimpico and only in the half occupied by the Azzurri.

Grounds for complaint No 2: Saracens' use of the PA system at Vicarage Road to relentlessly play 'Stand up for the Saracens' in an attempt to drown out Munster's magnificent fans.

My prediction howlers: England to beat Australia. Wrong. England 'surely can't win' against New Zealand. Wrong. Leinster to retain the Heineken Cup. Almost certainly wrong.

The last word…

Danny Cipriani has been recalled by Sale for Friday's clash with Worcester at Salford City Stadium as the Premiership's bottom club attempt to close the five-point gap to 11th-placed London Irish.

The former England fly-half was dropped from the squad last week and heavily criticised by the Sharks' hierarchy following the 62-0 defeat against Toulon at the Stade Felix Mayol on December 16 in the group stage of the Heineken Cup.

Recall: Danny Cipriani is set to play against Worcester for Sale

Recall: Danny Cipriani is set to play against Worcester for Sale

Having settled into the Premiership with more conviction than anyone imagined, London Welsh have signalled their commitment to long-term growth and development by recruiting Tony Copsey as their chief executive.

The former Wales and Scarlets lock will take up his new post from New Year's Day alongside former Llanelli team-mate Lyn Jones, now coach.