Happy New Year everyone! Through the foggy haze of Hogmanay, we’ve put our heads together and here are the winners for the awards that are undoubtedly more important to Scottish Rugby than the Oscars…
Young Player of the Year: there are any number of nominations here, so to make it manageable we’re counting “young” as under 21; these guys can’t buy beer in a Scotmid. For Edinburgh, Blair Kinghorn has had a year to remember – much to Glenn Bryce’s frustration no doubt – having cemented a spot in the first team, aged 19. Magnus Bradbury turned 21 this year and earned his first cap. At Glasgow, Scott Cummings had a good tail end to last season but injury has hampered him massively this season. Most impressive though has been the rise of Zander Fagerson. The tighthead became Scotland’s youngest debut prop since 1948 and after WP Nel was rested over the autumn, has cemented himself as his challenger or successor with a strong series of games against some hefty scrummaging units.
The Respect The Kicker Award: goes to this effort from someone in charge of the iPod at the Stade Mayol:
The force is not with Leigh tonight. pic.twitter.com/YFabOBNieh
— Adam Kyriacou (@PlanetRugbyAK) January 1, 2017
The Respect The Officials Award: this one goes to John Muldoon of Connacht, who managed to convince French referee Matthieu Raynal – coming to a Calcutta Cup near you – that the new directives for 2017 were already in place, and that they could kick for touch and still take the lineout even after 80 minutes was up. Connacht went on to score a try, the conversion winning them the match.
The Pascal Pape Fair Play Award: stiff competition from the big man himself after the PapeSlappe™ but this one goes to Keith Earls of Munster, who reacted poorly – during an understandably heated occasion – when he was red carded for a tip tackle, then reacted poorly again in the media. He possibly still thinks Fraser Brown milked it, even though he’s been forced to issue any number of clarifying statements after that particular opinion seemed to contradict the one he gave to the disciplinary panel and possibly to Brown himself. Thankfully it is in the past now, but expect Earls to be treated like a pantomime villain at Scotstoun for a wee while.
Try of the Year: sorry Matt Taylor, who probably had kittens, but it has to be this one:
Close runners up were Visser against France, Hogg against Ireland, any of Huw Jones’ in the Autumn and Strauss against Racing 92 as well at least a couple of these Edinburgh tries against Quins:
Breakthrough of the Year: Duncan Taylor had a Six Nations to remember, and Hamish Watson has finally disproved his doubters after the Autumn. Ali Price has developed rapidly this season for Glasgow, to the point where co-captain Henry Pyrgos’s shirt is genuinely under threat, and he’s bagged himself a Scotland cap now too. But in terms of impact on the national level, take a bow Huw Jones. In the spring it was all about the rise of Taylor (himself not initially first choice during the Six Nations), until the well-regarded Stormers centre sneaked in stage left for a first cap on the Japan tour after Finn Russell was injured. He followed up that fairly innocuous start with a hugely impressive 2-try performance against Australia and created another one against Argentina, and he was going well until he was injured in the act of offloading it to Sean Maitland. Short and sharp but he’s left a big impression on Scotland fans. He’s only 22, and could perhaps be part of our own golden generation along with the likes of Gray, Hogg, Russell and Bennett. So don’t worry about him playing Super Rugby for another season at least – as long as they let him play for Scotland too.
Moment of the Year: No contest really: Scotland 7s winning a first ever World Series Sevens tournament at Twickenham (just in time to be under-represented in the Olympic squad). Particular mention to Dougie Fife, comeback king of the year both in the final and in general.
Player of the Year: much like the Man of the Match awards he hoovers up pretty regularly, this one is easy. Hamish Watson, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg came close. However, Jonny Gray has been head and shoulders above every other Scottish lock – even his brother who stands 10cm taller – and in terms of tackling stats he’s miles ahead of everyone else too; according to Ultimate Rugby he’s missed 3 tackles all year at any level for a total of 204. The battle for those red shirts and a seat on the plane to New Zealand is most heated in the second row, where there are probably 8 or 9 candidates Gatland could choose. Even taking 4 or 5 as he is likely to, will mean some culling of talent. Jonny has the work ethic, the precision in defence and the attitude for it, but does his dogged hard work but perceived quiet personality put him behind some of the showier candidates (for example Maro Itoje) in the perception that somehow he isn’t the complete rugby player? Well, he is only 22. Give him time.