Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rugby highlights of the decade
Tuesday December 22, 2009
Source: Reuters

Player of the decade: Richie McCaw (New Zealand)

To be named the International Rugby Board (IRB) world player of the year twice would be an impressive-enough feat for a free-scoring winger but to achieve that distinction while doing much of your work buried under a pile of bodies shows how highly respected McCaw is at the highest level.

Still only 28, he has been a ball-stealing giant for his country and a monumental force of frustration for opponents since making his debut in 2001. Tri Nations titles, a grand slam tour of Europe, a clean-sweep over the British and Irish Lions, 80 caps and countless individual awards have all come his way but he will retire contented only if he can extend his greatness two years into the next decade and help New Zealand to win the World Cup on home soil.

Defining moment: Jonny Wilkinson's drop-goal to win the 2003 World Cup final.

England should have wrapped up the match in normal time and again in extra time but Australia refused to buckle and somehow remained level with the clock ticking into the last minute.

That was when Clive Woodward's six years of plotting came to glorious fruition. As 80,000 fans and millions of television viewers boiled over, England's calm decision-makers set up and perfectly executed a lineout. Matt Dawson snatched another 10 metres, Martin Johnson drove on to enable his team mates to slip into their allotted places, and Wilkinson, on his wrong foot, landed the drop goal that secured England's first World Cup and ended the Tri-Nations' stranglehold of rugby's ultimate prize.

Match of the decade: South Africa beat the British and Irish Lions 28-25 in Pretoria to clinch the 2009 series.

The year's ferocious and nerve-shreddingly tense second test encapsulated what the Lions mean to the sport in 80 unforgettable minutes that began with Schalk Burger's first-minute gouging and ended with a last-gasp, 55-metre, series-clinching penalty by 21-year-old Morne Steyn in only his second test.

The game was soaked with violent aggression, both legal and otherwise, and relentless drama as the best Lions performance for 12 years saw them surge into a 18-9 lead only for the world champion Springboks to claw their way back. With the scores level at 25-all and the series heading for a Johannesburg decider, Ronan O'Gara's moment of madness and local hero Steyn's ice-cool nerve and trusted technique meant the hosts took the series, but the match ensured the Lions concept remained very much alive.

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