Hard to believe, I know, that another year has flown by and that 2020 - a year that seemed impossibly far into the future when I started playing this wonderful game of ours - looms large on the horizon.
Without further ado, let's hurtle headlong into the awards, starting with the TOTAL FLANKER DEADLY DUO AWARD. Ever since the halcyon days of Neil Back and Richard Hill, English rugby has been searching for an openside flanker worthy of the shirt. And now we have two. Step forward the Kamikaze Kids - Sam Underhill and Tom Curry - who combined to devastating effect in the England back row this Autumn. Injuries and selectoral foibles permitting, England may just have found a world class flanker combination for the next two World Cup cycles.
Next we have the TOTAL FLANKER LET'S MAKE A DRAMA OUT OF A CRISIS AWARD.
This gong is awarded to Premiership Rugby for its handling of the Saracens salary cap breach. I'm sorry, I still don't understand why a breach, which the independent enquiry accepted was not a deliberate attempt to cheat, still deserved the maximum punishment available? The lack of transparency - the details of the case have still not been published - is particularly troublesome, as is the suspicion that one club is being made an example of whilst others appear to be able to make superstar signings at will. I suspect we have not heard the last of this...
Hey ho, moving along, our next award is the TOTAL FLANKER WTF IS GOING ON? AWARD. This particular prize is awarded to former Australia fullback Israel Folau. Having posted some horribly bigoted and homophobic comments on social media - not for the first time - he somehow managed, having rightly been dismissed by Rugby Australia for a serious breach of their code of conduct, to paint himself as some kind of martyr being persecuted for his religious beliefs and was even able to drag an apology out of his cash-strapped governing body as part of an ill-deserved settlement. He may be a bigot, but that was quite some performance from Folau and his legal team.
On a less confrontational note, our next award is the TOTAL FLANKER PEFORMANCE FROM THE GODS AWARD. Where it came from I have no idea, but England's display against the All Blacks in the World Cup semi final was simply fantastic and one for the ages. From as early as the V-shaped response to the Haka you could sense that the England players were about to produce something special - and so they did. It's just a shame - for England fans at least - that (as predicted by Warren Gatland) they failed to reach such heights again the following week. Nevertheless, a performance worthy of this prestigious award.
Our penultimate award this evening is the TOTAL FLANKER YOU WILL BE SORELY MISSED AWARD. This award is shared between a couple of very prominent kiwis, Messrs Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen. Gatland's impact on Welsh and British rugby can not be underestimated, consistently managing to make silk purses from sows’ ears time and time again, while Hansen has presided over unprecedented All Black success with calmness, equanimity and good sportsmanship and without the sanctimony of his predecessor. You will be greatly missed, gentlemen, and have set the bar incredibly high for your respective successors.
And that, my friends, is that. 2019 is done and dusted and we now look forward to a fascinating post-RWC 2020. Frankly, I can barely wait!
Thanks to all for your continued indulgence and support as I wish you a very Happy New Year...