Magical memories of 2012 - Rugby Union: 'It was eerie seeing England sticking it to the silver fern'

1 December: Manu Tuilagi waltzes to the try line as England smash New Zealand

Rugby folk with a beating heart should not, if truth be told, look too far past the events of 16 November in Cardiff for the year's highlight: a Friday night rising of downtrodden, put-upon underdogs who travelled halfway round the world to bite one of the hands that had fed them nothing but scraps from the rich man's table. Samoa's magnificent victory over Wales, the reigning Grand Slam champions and one of the eight "foundation unions" who continue to control the politics of world rugby, was enough to make grown men cry... with joy.

But it is to another Samoan that we turn for the most startling oval-ball moment of 2012, albeit a Samoan clad in English white. When Manu Tuilagi, the human bowling ball from Leicester via the faraway lava-field village of Fatausi-Fogapoa, intercepted a desperate pass from the brilliant New Zealand forward Kieran Read and rolled off into the wide blue yonder before slowing to a jog and strolling across the All Black line to complete the try that would give his adopted country a record victory over the best team in the sport, many in the Twickenham crowd wondered whether they had lost their marbles.

Not everyone appreciated Tuilagi's nonchalant score. Eddie Jones, the Australian coach who guided his home country to a World Cup final in 2003, helped the Springboks to the title four years later and is now charged with creating a Japan team strong enough to reach the knockout stage of the tournament when they host it in 2019, used the words "disrespectful" and "arrogant" in his summary of events, criticising the centre for not making the ensuing conversion as easy as possible by straining every sinew to finish behind the sticks. While we cannot know for sure, it may be that Owen Farrell, the man saddled with adding the extra points, and Stuart Lancaster, the England coach, saw it the same way, but chose to keep their opinions to themselves.

Yet this is a victory over the All Blacks we're talking about – something that has always been as rare as rocking-horse manure – and a victory of unprecedented proportions at that. There was something eerie, something discombobulating, something scarcely believable about watching an England player sticking it to the silver fern as if he were playing a common or garden game of sevens. Opportunities to humiliate New Zealand come around once in an eternity. It would have been shameful to let it slip by.

Tuilagi's previous experience of that country and its rugby, at the end of England's miserable World Cup campaign last year, had been memorable for different reasons: after performing his "Manu Overboard" trick by leaping into Auckland harbour from a ferry, he quickly found himself helping the local authorities with their inquiries before heading for the airport and the desolate flight home. There was nothing desolate about this latest episode. Disrespectful? Perhaps. Arrogant? Maybe. Worth it? To hell with it: yes.

Further reading:

Olympics: ‘Mo, Jess and Greg gave us a night no one could forget’ 4 August: That night in the Olympic Stadium - James Lawton

Football: ‘When Chelsea saw off Barcelona, the joy was in watching the spoilers have their day’ 24 April: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (agg 2-3); Champions League semi-final second leg - Sam Wallace

Athletics: ‘The roar for Ennis made the hair stand up on the back of my neck’ 3 August: Opening day of track and field at the Olympics - Simon Turnbull

Cycling: 'Bradley Wiggins' achievement was greatest we have ever seen from a Briton' 22 July: Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France - Alasdair Fotheringham

Football: ‘We’ll never encounter anything quite like it again’ 13 May: Manchester City win the title in thrilling style - Ian Herbert

Football: ‘After losing the title in the cruellest way, Ferguson stood firm’ 13 May: United are denied the title in heart-breaking style Martin Hardy

Olympics: ‘Nobody personified it more than Hoy, the ultimate sportsman’ 27 July: Hoy leads out Team GB at the Games opening ceremony - Robin Scott-Elliot

Football: ‘An hour later Theo Walcott was a hero – given a standing ovation’ 26 February: Theo Walcott turns the jeers to cheers to steer Arsenal to derby victory - Glenn Moore

Golf: ‘This was it. The moment that would decide the Ryder Cup. A 10-footer for glory ... Get in!’ 30 September: Europe claim Ryder Cup in thrilling fashion - Kevin Garside

Boxing: ‘The fight was terrific from the first bell. It had urgency, nastiness' 14 July: David Haye v Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora - Steve Bunce

Tennis: ‘After Murray won he staggered in a daze, then held his head in his hands’ 11 September: Andy Murray ends Britain’s wait for a major - Paul Newman

Football: ‘That night Spain played thrilling, bold, beautiful football’  1 July: Beautiful Spain smash Italy in the Euro 2012 final - Jack Pitt-Brooke

Formula One: ‘Kimi’s Lotus win was F1’s most romantic result’  4 November: Kimi Raikkonen zooms to victory in Abu Dhabi - David Tremayne

Racing: ‘Frankel enlarged life’s comfort zone for us all’ 22 August: Juddmonte International Stakes; Frankel finally goes the full distance - Chris McGrath

Cricket: ‘A sweep for three and Cook had broken a 73-year-old landmark’  6 December: Alastair Cook breaks England century record - Ste

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