Rugby union review 2016: Perfect England, dominant Saracens and history-making Ireland

A look back at the last 12 months in the world of rugby

Jack Austin
Saturday 24 December 2016 15:32
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Owen Farrell celebrates scores to secure a series victory in Australia
Owen Farrell celebrates scores to secure a series victory in Australia

January

Eddie Jones named his first training squad with England ahead of the Six Nations with Dylan Hartley named as his captain. Champions-elect Saracens go unbeaten in January as they lead the way in both the Premiership and the Champions Cup, where they topped their Pool.

February

Eddie Jones starts with three wins, ending Ireland’s hopes in the process while George North inspires pre-tournament favourites Wales to two wins and a draw from three. Ireland legend Paul O’Connell is forced to retire from professional rugby without playing a minute for new club Toulon due to the injury he suffered during the World Cup.

March

Dylan Hartley lifts England's first Grand Slam since 2003

England edged out Wales in a thrilling 25-21 encounter before completing their first Grand Slam since 2003 with victory in Paris. Scotland win again, their first triumph over France in 10 years, as Stuart Hogg is named Player of the Tournament ahead of the likes of Maro Itoje and Jonathan Joseph.

April

Three of the four Champions Cup semi-finalists are from England but Toulon beat Leicester to set up a final with Saracens in May. In the Challenge Cup, Harlequins reached the final after thrashing Grenoble, with Montpellier beating the Dragons in the other semi. The Pro12’s ‘Judgement Day’ saw Ospreys and the Scarlets beat the Blues and the Dragons at the Principality Stadium.

May

Sarries make it a European and domestic double, beating Racing Metro in the Champions Cup before winning the Premiership Grand Final against Exeter at Twickenham. In the Challenge Cup Harlequins couldn’t get past Montpellier while Connacht took the Pro12 title, beating Leinster at Murrayfield.

Saracens celebrate winning the Champions Cup weeks before adding the Premiership title

June

England’s revival under Eddie Jones showed no signs of slowing down as Australia were convincingly whitewashed 3-0 to maintain the Red Rose’s 100 per cent record this year. Wales lost all three of their games against the All Blacks, while Ireland lost their series with South Africa 2-1.

Billy Vunipola thunders over against Australia in Sydney

July

The traditional off-season scramble for players was underway with big names such as Wallaby Kurtley Beale and Springbok Willie Le Roux both joining Danny Cipriani at Wasps. James Haskell, who had revitalised his career under Eddie Jones, was ruled out for six months after suffering a toe injury while on tour in Australia.

August

Scotland confirmed they would not be renewing current coach Vern Cotter’s contract and would be appointing Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend to replace him in June 2017. The Rugby Championship began as New Zealand battered Australia 42-8 and 29-9 to set the tone for another dominant victory over the Southern Hemisphere sides.

September

Steve Borthwick replacing Graham Rowntree was the only change from the 2013 coaching team

Warren Gatland was chosen to coach the British and Irish Lions on the 2017 tour of New Zealand, with Rob Howley replacing him as Wales coach for the Six Nations. Howley would be announced as one of Gatland’s three assistant coaches for the tour, along with Andy Farrell and Steve Borthwick. Fiji won gold in Rio, beating Team GB in the final, as rugby sevens returned to the Olympics.

October

Tragedy rocked the rugby world as Munster head coach and former Ireland forward Anthony Foley was found dead in his hotel room ahead of the Champions Cup tie with Racing Metro. Foley died aged 42 after a heart condition caused fluid to build up in his lungs.

November

Ireland stunned the rugby world with a sensational 40-29 win over New Zealand in Chicago – their first ever win over the All Blacks in an emotionally charged game with tributes to Foley made beforehand. South Africa are beaten by Wales, England, Ireland and, surprisingly, Italy on their European tour. All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett was named World Rugby’s player of the year.

Jamie Heaslip celebrates Ireland's historic 40-29 win over the All Blacks

December

England complete their perfect year with a commanding win over Australia at Twickenham. Domestically, concussion rears its ugly head as George North is controversially allowed to continue playing by Northampton while Dylan Hartley ends his year on a sour note with a red card and six-week ban.

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