Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Total Flanker Awards 2013

It's that time of year and time, once again, to celebrate, castigate and mock those that have delighted, disgusted or otherwise passed across our radar during the past 12 months.

 Welcome one and all to the 7th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony.

As I'm sure you've all got much better things to do, let's crack on with our first award of the evening...

The Total Flanker Massive Over-reaction Award. Never let it be said that us rugby folk are timid when it comes to reacting to what goes on in the game. Whether it's the result of a match (step forward Welsh fans after thrashing the English in Cardiff in March), or a refereeing decision (reference any decision made by Wayne Barnes in a match featuring New Zealand) or, most particularly, the question of the selection or otherwise of certain players (England fans and Chris Ashton being a pertinent case in point). However the biggest over-reaction in 2013 was, by far, in response to the non-selection of Brian O'Driscoll for the final Lions test against Australia this summer. One player (albeit a player on the verge of deity) being dropped was all it took to shake the entire Irish population into a seething mass of apoplectic outrage. Congratulations.

Moving along, the second award of the evening is the Total Flanker Blatant Profiteering Award.  With international tickets in general being priced at ridiculously unaffordable levels, it might be argued that most international unions could be prime candidates for this award. There is, however, one clear winner - that being the organising committee of Rugby World Cup 2015. Yes, there are will be few cheaper seats available at some venues, but the cheapest adult seats at Twickenham for the pool matches will be £75, while around three-quarters of the stadium’s 82,000 seats will be sold for £160, £215 and £315 and ticket prices for the Final will range from £150 to an eye-watering £715. Ouch.

And...relax. Our next award this evening is the Total Flanker Has The Penny Finally Dropped? Award It's a question that has often been asked of its recipient – a man once seen as the future of English rugby, a man blessed with huge natural talent but who more often than not has graced the front pages of the tabloids rather than the back pages of the broadsheets. Step forward Danny Cipriani whose form  for Sale this season appears to be getting better and better and whose commitment to the previously unedifying job of tackling seems to reaching unprecedented levels. I've been hugely critical of Cipriani on this blog over the years but I genuinely do hope that he's turned a corner.

We're now half way through our awards, so let's move swiftly on to the Total Flanker Where's Your Backbone? Award. This, of course, is awarded to the clubs of the Ligue Nationale de Rugby. Having given, along with Premiership Rugby, 2 years notice to quit the Heineken Cup and having planned, with their English counterparts, a rival Rugby Champions Cup to begin in 2014-2015, the French clubs have now caved into pressure from the French Rugby Union and performed a perfidious volte-face, in doing so showing all the backbone of an amoeba. Shame on you.

In the home stretch now and the penultimate award of the evening - the Total Flanker Reputation Plummeting Like a Stone Award. It gives me no pleasure whatsoever in making this award - it goes to a man who burst on to the England scene in 2010/2011 with an exciting and innovative style of wing play that, stupid swan dive aside, had the English rugby public on its feet. His subsequent fall from grace was, I hoped, merely a blip - a second season syndrome, if you will - but it's looking increasingly likely that the faults in his game might just be permanent. Injuries to his rivals have so far kept him in the England reckoning, but even with an injury list as long as the Thames, Chris Ashton may still struggle to make the England 6 Nations squad.

And so, at last, to our final award. Let's end on an optimistic note as we present - the Total Flanker You Never Know, That Might Just Work Award. I couldn't let the evening pass without an award for our perennial winners - the International Rugby Board - but this year it is all for positive reasons. I am referring to the way in which referees are now being asked to referee the previously anarchistic scrummage. A combination of the 'Crouch, Bind, Set' protocol and the instruction to penalise the crooked feed might just be doing the trick. It's not perfect, not by any means, but I've seen more ball emerge from the back of the scrum in recent months than I have done in years and, all in all, I'd say the portents are good.

So, that's that for another year. For the those with a short attention span, a quick reminder of this year's Awards:

Total Flanker Massive Over-reaction Award - the entire Irish population

Total Flanker Blatant Profiteering Award – RWC 2015

Total Flanker Has The Penny Finally Dropped? Award – Danny Cipriani

Total Flanker Where's Your Backbone? Award - Ligue Nationale de Rugby

Total Flanker Reputation Plummeting Like a Stone Award - Chris Ashton

Total Flanker You Never Know, That Might Just Work Award - IRB

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