Rugby year in review: Lions tour sparkles amid all the doom and gloom

Story of the year: The Lions in New Zealand

It was spiteful, controversial, emotional and most of all, brilliant to watch. When the British and Irish Lions went to New Zealand, many expected them to return on the end of a 3-0 drubbing from the men in black. Instead, they lost the first Test in Eden Park, climbed off the canvas to win the second and drew 15-15 in the third in deeply controversial circumstances.

The ABs were given a penalty at the death, only for referee Roman Poite to review it and rule the offside accidental, resulting in a scrum for the tourists and an eventual stalemate.

The 10-match tour had everything a rugby fan could want, with breathtaking rugby on the field and of course, the now traditional depiction of the rival coach, in this case Warren Gatland, as a clown by the New Zealand Herald. While the n game was in turmoil, the goings on over the ditch produced some unforgettable moments.

The Winners: Melbourne Rebels and a watershed moment

And by winners, we mean they still exist. In what really was a year birthed from the fiery depths of hell for rugby administrators in , the Rebels picked the lucky number out of the hat when it came to the final round of Oblivion Bingo.

With rationalisation of Super Rugby deemed the answer to dwindling crowds, dire ratings and empty pockets, one of the Western Force, Melbourne Rebels or ACT Brumbies had to be culled. With the Brumbies making the grade, it came down to the final pairing. The Rebels were deemed the better commercial bet in the long-term, despite the franchise having previously cost the ARU around $30 million in loan write-offs and funding.

Still alive: The Melbourne Rebels remain in Super Rugby. Photo: AAP

Melbourne would then benefit from the signatures of nine Wallabies as Force players searched for a new home. They better hope people turn up next season. Or at least tune in.

And only just sneaking into 2017, we saw a watershed moment for women in sport, with former Canterbury Bulldogs boss Raelene Castle announced as the first female head of an n sporting code, becoming the new Rugby CEO.

The Losers: Rugby fans in the West

For a time, the west was the great hope of the game, with the Force a beacon of hope in a land where AFL ruled but rugby league was a foreign entity. Yet when it became clear the ARU (now Rugby ) was going to put one of the Super Rugby teams on the chopping block, the Force quickly became one of the prime targets.

Gone: The Western Force have been culled from the competition. Photo: AAP

When news broke that the deed had been done, the kickback was loud, damaging and emphatic. Fans protested in the streets, while Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, the billionaire benefactor of WA rugby, threatened a breakaway competition of his own. The Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship has since hit a few roadblocks as Forrest and Rugby try to form an unsteady alliance.

Regardless of the outcome of that arrangement, rugby fans in the west, many of them hard-won over the years, will be without a team to support in the region’s elite competition from 2018 and beyond. It really was a sad state of affairs.

Quote of the year: Warren Gatland, who wore a red nose to a press conference

“There’s been a significant campaign against me personally but you can’t let that get to you. It’s water off a duck’s back. I’ve just got to concentrate on doing my job and not worry about any specific individuals who try to make it personal. It’s just part of professional sport. I’m not worried about what any newspaper draws me up as. I couldn’t give a toss if that’s happening. I just hope it was a happy clown.”

Social media moment: Jack Quigley and the Wallaby coach

In the wake of a loss to Scotland, Wallabies fan Jack Quigley posted a heartfelt (if slightly tipsy) rant on Facebook that made it all the way to Michael Cheika, who would later take the astonishing step of calling him to insist they really were trying their best. It went viral, the mark of any good piece of writing these days, and included the following:

“I love you, but I’ll be blunt. The Wallabies are a disgrace. You got lucky in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2015 thanks to Craig Joubert losing the plot in the last minute (against Scotland, funnily enough) for some reason and you’ve lived off it ever since.

“The constant disappointments. I’ll grant you New Zealand. The All Blacks are playing a different game than everyone else right now. But losing at home, to Scotland ‘B’? (I say Scotland ‘B’, because anyone decent the Scots had is in New Zealand on the Lions tour right now.)

Fed up: Wallabies fan Jack Quigley said the national side was “a disgrace”.

“You hurt me. I have to go to work tomorrow. I’m not going to turn this into one of those, ‘they earn so much money they should do better’ rants, because I know that our playing stocks are limited. Severely. But I have to go to work tomorrow, and I have to do with this sick feeling in my stomach that stems from the utter disappointment that is my national rugby team.

“When I was a kid – hell, even now, I would’ve given my left nut just to pull on a Wallabies jumper, but when I see you guys run out, I feel like you don’t care. I KNOW you don’t care, because it shows. And don’t tell me I’m wrong. Don’t say that you DO care, because my response is that you don’t care ENOUGH! CLEARLY!”

Crystal ball: More pain before any gain and a familiar result

First, the good bits. A three-Test inbound tour by Ireland should be wonderful, in what will be the final Super Rugby break. The All Blacks are in Sydney, the Springboks are in Brisbane and Argentina will be on the Gold Coast. But before that, Rugby must hope fans take at least a passing interest in Super Rugby, which was little more than a disaster last year, with not a single n side beating a Kiwi rival.

We predict the rebound will be slow. On the small matter of the Bledisloe, the optimists will once again hope to reverse the tide of recent history. They stand to be disappointed.