The big winners from a year of highs and lows

2017 kicked off for our acclaimed rugby columnist last night with Racing against Toulon. But before we let 2016 pass...

The big winners from a year of highs and lows

Player of the year 2016

Mario Itoje of Saracens and England. I think his record of played 25, won 25 at Test and European level just nudges it ahead of the freak Beauden Barrett.

Irish player of the year

Munster’s CJ Stander. His consistency of performances are magnificent. Still in the honeymoon period of international rugby and things will get tougher, but he has shone in every game.

Newcomer of the year

Leinster’s Garry Ringrose. Reminds me of a young Brian O’Driscoll and most importantly, seems really grounded and humble.

Tactical innovation of the year

Ireland’s phase play maul creation. Joe Schmidt’s ability to pull a play from his locker is well known. My favourite this year was that phase maul, drawing penalties and tries.

Most consistent point-scorer of the year

New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett. His ability to accumulate points in every test match is frightening.

Best under pressure of the year

Owen Farrell. Brilliant at key moments for England on the tour to Oz and lethal for Saracens in clutch moments.

Best coaching performance

Pat Lam. What he has done with Connacht is absolutely heart-warming for sports fans of all shades. Another version of the Leicester City fairytale.

Team of the year

Has to be Connacht. To perform like they did in their first major (Pro12) final was astonishing.

Personal high

Winning the Top 14 title with 14 men against Toulon in front of 98,000 fans at the Camp Nou is something that will stick with me for the rest of my days.

Personal low

My professional low is being out of Europe with Racing before Christmas.

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Saturday, February 27, 2021

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