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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

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UPDATED:

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

More from Chris Foy…

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Chris Foy: More referees will follow Lawrence's example and quit if this hounding goes on
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VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

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.

British 10k powered by Nike run blog: Timing is everything

Hit the road, Matt… Timing is everything in quest to reach 10k goal

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UPDATED:

14:36 GMT, 25 May 2012

Nike British 10k Run

Sportsmail's Matt Lawless has taken up the challenge of running the British 10K powered by Nike+.

Here, he will share the highs, lows, aches and pains of his training during the countdown to the big race in July.

How will he fare in what will be his first-ever competitive run

Keep track of Matt's progress at: www.dailymail.co.uk/sport

Almost a month has passed since my last post and I've clocked a fair few miles pounding the streets of London (and Essex).

That's right, I'm the guy who has been pausing to catch his breath at Marble Arch mid-route to Embankment (Hi).

After weeks of trying and wondering, 'is it really worth it', I've finally caught the running bug – although it seems nobody has told my tired knee joints!

Start me up: Sportsmail's Matt Lawless will join the runners competing in London on July 8

Start me up: Sportsmail's Matt Lawless will join the runners competing in London on July 8

I must confess, like most (unfit) beginners, the start to my training has been relatively tough. I've gone from running for buses to running 5k (the advanced members of the running community scoff).

But as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect and timing is everything.

I was delighted to post a steady 28-minute performance for my first 5k attempt a few weeks ago.

However, with less than two months until the big July 8 race, I'm now working hard to reduce that time with every run while going further.

That's no mean feat when travelling through the congested capital after a long, day in the office (especially in this hot weather). But I'm managing to persevere despite all the aches and pains.

Enlarge

Man with a plan: Training begins with a gentle run just under the midway point of 5km

Man with a plan: Matt's training regime is coming together with weeks to go

One key piece of kit I've taken to during my runs is the new Nike+ Sportswatch GPS. I've always been fascinated with technology in sport, particularly how it can enhance performance.

This timepiece is definitely dynamic. It has satalite navigation, powered by TomTom, to trace your every move while recording time, distance, pace, and calories burned.

If GPS is unavailable (if you happen to be running indoors on a treadmill or through a tunnel) it comes with a chip device that is inserted in your running shoe which continues recording data.

Watch out: Matt has been testing out the new Nike+ Sportswatch GPS

Watch out: Matt has been testing out the new Nike+ Sportswatch GPS

SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE

If you’re taking part in the 10k British race and a first time runner like me, I’d love to hear from you and share the journey along the way before the main event.

And if you’re an experienced pacemaker, I’d be keen to hear your thoughts and advice too.

Follow me on Twitter and stayed tuned for my next post…

The statistics are undoubtedly valuable and, once synched on to a computer, they can be helpfully used to evaluate the next steps on your training path.

It has certainly helped me analyse my routes, plan new ones, and identify where my pace is at its premium… or where I'm flagging.

Consistency is the key now. Next week, I'll be stepping up from three runs a week to at least four or five.

If you happen to spot me taking a break in Hyde Park, do pick me up and tell me to get a move on…

For more information on the British 10K powered by Nike+ go to: www.facebook.com/NikeRunningUK

Steven Gerrard demands better from Liverpool after FA Cup Final defeat

We must do better! Upset Gerrard demands improvement after Wembley defeat

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UPDATED:

13:13 GMT, 6 May 2012

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has called on the players to respond to the challenge which faces them next season – primarily improving their league form.

Saturday's 2-1 FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea denied the Reds the chance of a domestic cup double and effectively ended their season with two games remaining.

But of greater concern has been the club's league form, particularly since the turn of the year when they have won just four and lost 10 of 17 Barclays Premier League matches in 2012.

We must do better: Steven Gerrard has issued a warning to his Liverpool team-mates after losing the FA Cup Final to Chelsea

We must do better: Steven Gerrard has issued a warning to his Liverpool team-mates after losing the FA Cup Final to Chelsea

A return of 15 points from a possible 51 sees Kenny Dalglish's side face the prospect of possibly finishing outside the top 10.

Two months ago had Liverpool beaten Arsenal at home and not lost in injury time they would have moved within four points of the Gunners with a match in hand.

Instead they are now 18 points behind Arsene Wenger's team and their prospects of making a bid for Champions League qualification next season seem further away than they were at the start of the current campaign.

'We need to dust ourselves down and we need to respond to the challenge next year,' said Gerrard.

'We need to come back. Football is about highs and lows, it's certainly been a low today.

Nowhere to hide: Gerrard admits Liverpool's season has been disappointing

Nowhere to hide: Gerrard admits Liverpool's season has been disappointing

Nowhere to hide: Gerrard admits Liverpool's season has been disappointing

'We've been fantastic in the cup competitions this year and the players deserve a lot of credit for that.

'We haven't been good enough in the league this year and we deserve criticism and we need to take criticism like men.

'We need to do better. We're Liverpool Football Club; we're not seventh or eighth in the league. We're better than that.'

Despite a poor start to Saturday's Wembley final, going 2-0 down to goals by Ramires and Didier Drogba in just less than an hour, Liverpool dragged themselves back into the game in the final 30 minutes.

That was mainly due to the arrival of substitute Andy Carroll who scored one and had a late header clawed away by goalkeeper Petr Cech, with television replays inconclusive as to whether the ball had crossed the line.

Up for the Cup: Chelsea celebrated on the famous Wembley steps

Up for the Cup: Chelsea celebrated on the famous Wembley steps

Gerrard felt they deserved more than they got out of that last-ditch charge but admitted they should have done more to make the match a contest earlier.

'I think on our second half performance we certainly deserved to take Chelsea to extra-time,' the England midfielder told the club's official website.

'But I don't think we did enough over the 90 minutes to deserve to win the game.

'I think, given the pressure we put them under second half, we're a bit disappointed we didn't get extra-time out of it.

'That's the frustration. Looking back, we never got going until 30 minutes into the game and I think we got even better once Andy came on and we finished the game a lot stronger than Chelsea.

'That's why I believe we just did enough to get a draw out of the game. I wouldn't say we did enough to win the game.'

Rebecca Adlington prepares for Olympic trials

Adlington aware of contrasting emotions heading into Olympic trials

Double Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington heads to the Olympic trials in March fully expecting to witness extreme highs and lows as British swimmers aim to book a spot on the team for London.

At the trials in Sheffield in 2008, Adlington experienced the joy of qualifying for Beijing before she went on to secure gold in both the 400metres and 800m freestyle.

However, her happiness contrasted with the despair experienced by former world 800m freestyle bronze medallist Rebecca Cooke who failed to make the cut.

Testing times: Adlington heads into the Olympic trials in March

Testing times: Adlington heads into the Olympic trials in March

Adlington believes she will witness the full spectrum of emotions at the British Gas Swimming Championships at the Aquatics Centre from March 3-10, where the majority of berths will be booked despite a second chance in Sheffield in June.

The 22-year-old said: 'It's emotional. If you made the Olympics and didn't swim well it's personally emotional but at least you've still gone but if you don't make it it's just devastating and even harder to watch the Games afterwards.

'I think in some respects trials are harder than the Olympics.

'You watch an event your friends are in and two come out so happy and you are so pleased for them and then other friends come out crying and there is nothing anyone can say to them. To be in that situation is devastating.

Golden girl: Adlington won two gold medals in Beijing

Golden girl: Adlington won two gold medals in Beijing

Rebecca Adlington

'No-one can comfort anyone on poolside –
we are all in the same position but there is nothing we can say to each
other if you don't make it. It is just one of those devastating things
that are part and parcel of the sport.'

Everyone knows the situation but it is just so heartbreaking to see that.

'My races are extremely tough, they are going to be extremely hard, I am just hoping I qualify.'

Despite claiming titles at every level – Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth – Adlington has always been adamant she is not taking qualification for granted.
She said: 'It is something you have to do – you have to have that approach.

'I was talking to (coach) Bill (Furniss) and I said “but what if I am ill or injured” and he was like “well, you don't go”.

'I could fall and break a leg so it's one of those situations you have to be aware of.

'If I don't make it then I'll be absolutely devastated and probably cry for about four days.

'It is absolutely the worst thing that could happen but I am not trying to be depressing about it, I'm trying to be positive but at the same time realistic.'

She added: 'I think everyone is looking forward to the racing and knowing whether they are going to be honest.

'I think it is one of those things where people are like”'I want to know”.'