Looking back over 2011 in rugby terms, you can draw many parallels from the lyrics and titles of some of the hit songs of the past year.
Award for best Irish player – Seán O’Brien
Grenade by Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars vowed that he would “jump in front of a train” and “catch a grenade” such is his passion for his beloved. If those two options were not available to him, he could always throw himself in the path of the “Tullow Tank” Seán O’Brien, as the back row forward thunders up the rugby pitch.
The 24 year-old already stormed his way to the ERC player of the year award through consistently excellent form for Leinster on their march towards Heineken Cup glory.
Despite, his relatively tender years, O’Brien gained an almost cult following during the Rugby World Cup when he played on the open rather than his preferred blind side. He became a huge favourite due to what some would describe as his “agricultural” style of play with the New Zealand media and fans and was mooted as “good enough to be an All Black”. A foreign rugby player cannot be granted a better compliment from the Kiwis.
Award for Spectacular Inconsistency – France
Wasn’t Expecting That by Jamie Lawson
Jamie Lawson’s emotional lyrics about the unexpected nature of love, life and death could be parodied to make an excellent summation of France’s Rugby World Cup travails.
It was a journey from the ridiculous to the sublime, culminating in almost snatching the Webb-Ellis Cup from home team, in stark contrast to when the two sides met in the group stages.
Former coach Marc Lièvremont was the embodiment of inconsistency with his bizarre team selections such as Morgan Parra at out half, outrageous condemnations of players to the press and the mid-tournament appearance of that moustache - he did not just keep the fans and media guessing, he kept them baffled!
Rather than descending into a farce after the loss to Tonga, there was a revolution of sorts.
Les Bleus may have been lucky to beat Wales but they outplayed New Zealand in the final as players such as Thierry Dusautoir and Imanol Harinordoquy had the final word through how they played that night.
Award for anti-climax of the year - Ireland’s World Cup defeat to Wales
Best Thing I Never Had by Beyoncé
What is the best thing Irish rugby has never had? In the context of 2011, probably reaching a World Cup semi-final.
After their Wallaby conquering exploits and as a result shaking up the draw for the knock out rounds, hopes were high that Ireland could progress further by beating Six Nations opposition.
Alas, our Celtic cousins did not agree and whether it was the fact that they reached their peak in Wellington’s swirling winds or that it did not simply click for Ireland or a combination of factors, the green band wagon came to an abrupt and all too early halt that day.
Ladies’ choice award –Richard Kahui
What makes you beautiful by One Direction
I seriously doubt that All Black Richard Kahui is a One Direction fan but he has played some beautiful rugby this year on the wing for New Zealand out of his natural position as a centre, while looking pretty attractive.
Ladies’ choice is always going to be subjective and even contentious! The criteria were to pick a player who had a good year on the pitch as well as being easy on the eye. Due to his unfortunate groin injury, old reliable Dan Carter had to be ruled out!
However, Kahui who plays his Super rugby for the Waikato Chiefs is a deserving recipient with his four World Cup tries and versatility. His father’s Maori blood adds an exotic edge to his boy next-door charms.
Off the pitch the Tokoroa native has quietly done a lot of work for Children’s hospices in New Zealand, has presented a cookery programme Small Blacks encouraging youngsters to eat well and as a qualified builder has renovated his house.
A handsome, compassionate Rugby World Cup winner who can cook and is handy at DIY, I am not sure if that can be beaten?
Award for giving continued hope to Irish rugby - Leinster
The Edge of Glory by Lady GaGa
A whole article could be given over to Leinster’s spectacular Heineken Cup final come back and how they got there by beating the top teams in Europe such as Leicester and Toulouse but with the dawn of a new season, they continue to excite.
Coming in as defending champions with the likes of O’Driscoll and Shane Horgan missing and that first draw against Montpellier could have been ominous but they are currently topping their pool.
They can play gritty, winning away in Bath with six penalties or win with a try fest such as that over Bath at home. There may be talk in the media of Leinster becoming to rugby what Barcelona is to football and this concept of total rugby. However, the other particularly compelling parallel with Barcelona is the way in which Leinster has become dominant with immense strength in depth of home grown talent.
Home grown talent is not exceptional in rugby, you just have to look at Munster or Toulouse but when rugby and the Heineken Cup is competing against soccer and the Champions League commercially, this local element to Leinster must be seen as very attractive to viewers.
When you see how strong the supposed “second string” players such as Ian Madigan are and how much they contribute, you cannot help but feel very excited about something world class that is blooming on your own door step.
Special awards for players that made an impact – Richie McCaw, Ronan O’Gara, Rob Kearney, Jerry Flannery, Sam Warburton, Peter O’Mahony and Eoin O’Malley
Someone Like You by Adele
Adele’s emotive Someone Like You is probably the song of this past year. If you carve up the lyrics of the song, different lines can reflect the ups and downs experienced by the rugby stars that showed courage, heart and conviction in how they played in 2011.
“I heard that your dreams came true” award for helping to end a twenty-four year wait - Richie McCaw
A few days after winning the Rugby World Cup, the outgoing coach Graham Henry went fishing with his captain Richie McCaw. The coach told of his reaction when he saw the openside flanker’s injured foot he had played on during the tournament “I got a bit of a shock actually when I looked at it. I said ‘That foot's pretty big Rich’.”
Henry went on to describe how the player went through “hell” during the knock out stages of the tournament, not training, resting the foot, which had an infected screw until the Captain’s Run before each game.
This hell turned to heaven for the Canterbury Crusaders man after virtually playing on one leg in the final when he finally lifted that gold cup. Technically, he may have been outplayed by his French counterparts but through his leadership and heart he played a crucial role in not only making his and his team’s but his country’s dreams come through.
“It ain’t like you to hold back or hide from the light” award - Ronan O’Gara
Another man who showed there was no way he was going to give up this year was Ronan O’Gara. Despite hints towards international retirement, he quickly dispelled those thoughts by reclaiming the number 10 jersey for Ireland during the World Cup.
However, even more spectacular have been his Heineken Cup drop kick heroics. The physical rigours of rugby often cause players to look older than their years but lately it looks as if O’Gara has been splashing about in the fountain of youth and does not look his thirty-four years.
“I wish nothing but the best for you” award for injuries and injury comebacks - Rob Kearney and Jerry Flannery
As they exited the field after the victory against Australia, a few Irish players pumped their fists towards the crowd.
Although the history books will rightfully hail the forwards as the stars of the show in Eden Park, one player who was amongst the last fist pumpers as the team straggled off the field, who epitomised the journey this team had taken was fullback Rob Kearney.
That fist pump was a wonderful moment to see a player who had endured a difficult year announce that he was back and in a twist of faith it was in the spiritual home of the side, who he sustained his injury against.
While Kearney had made his way back from injury, some of the most touching moments after the match that night concerned the injured Jerry Flannery, who had spent the night watching from the stands.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll explained how the Munster man had handed out jerseys to the match day 22. Rory Best, with a lump in his throat, who had filled Flannery’s boots explained that the injured hooker “has made me a better player and I would not be where I am now without him.”
We will be wishing the best for O’Driscoll’s recovery from shoulder surgery and of course to David Wallace and Felix Jones.
“Who would have known how bitter sweet this would taste” award - Sam Warburton
This year the Welsh shed their image of flaky fake tan men and I am not just talking about the Ospreys spray tan ban! The emergence of Sam Warburton as a world beating openside flanker and a leader in taking on the captaincy at only 22 (turning 23 days before beating Ireland) was a signifier of this.
However, the Cardiff Blues man’s World Cup odyssey had a bitter end with his red card for the dangerous tackle on Vincent Clerc in the incident that could be argued lost Wales a place in the final.
Warburton, showed maturity and dignity by admitting to the tackle and in saying that Alain Rolland’s decision was the correct one.
“Bound by the surprise of our glory days” award for break through Irish players – Peter O’Mahony and Eoin O’Malley
Munster’s Peter O’Mahony is another young back row player with playing prowess and leadership qualities, captaining his side in the absence of colleagues on World Cup duty. He has played with maturity beyond his 22 years.
Leinster centre Eoin O’Malley has stepped up in the absence of O’Driscoll performing well and scoring tries. Although, the O’Driscoll-D’Arcy centre pairing will never be replicated, he along with Fergus McFadden could ease the worries of Leinster fans in the coming years.