LWOR Highlights for 2016–MCXM I

Australia v England
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With the New Year fast approaching, Last Word On Rugby are reflecting back on a fine year. From the International matches to Super Rugby and Aviva Premiership, the ‘LWOR highlights for 2016’ are a wide and varied account.

As part of our MCXM Top 10 memories of 2016, the first in our series has contributions from Australia-based writer Chris Duffy, and our European contributor Francisco Isaac. Sit back and enjoy two of the LWOR highlights from 2016.

#1: England Secure 2016 Series Win Over Australia

In reflecting over the International rugby season, one that would see England remain undefeated, it is possible to see how this single match may well have been a turning point for the Red Rose and it’s many followers.

After an historic win in Brisbane over the Wallabies, Melbourne could well have a been a massive anticlimax for the touring England side. Yet Eddie Jones’ men achieved something that few before them have done before–won a three test series on Australian soil [with a match to spare].

One Game Up, England Take a Step Forward

At this stage of Eddie Jones’ tenure he had already led England to a first Grand Slam since 2003. As well as that Brisbane victory, the sense that something special was brewing around this England squad was evident. They looked to wrap up the series in Melbourne.

Maybe if Australia had taken their chances that day at AAMI Park, then the rest of 2016 may have looked very different for both sides. Instead, England would continue on from this resolute display to produce some of the nation’s best rugby since their Rugby World Cup win of 2003.

Hindsight is an incredible thing. Looking back now, the defensive effort of the English epitomizes everything that Jones has instilled into his team. A ‘battered Red Rose’ withstood having to make 215 tackles to the Wallabies 81 and had only 29% possession. Despite these statistics, they ran out 23-7 victors thanks in no small part the goal kicking of Owen Farrell (below image). He was instrumental in leading his side to victory, scored the match winning try. But it was a true team effort, with all 23 players showing their worth to the squad that won the series.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 18: Owen Farrell of England dives over for the winning try in the Australian Wallabies and England match at AAMI Park in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

When considering the missed opportunities to score for the Wallabies, it is intriguing to think how different the remainder of the year would have been for them; and England, had the score been reversed. There is no time for ifs, buts, and maybes with International rugby [or any sport]. England went on and completed an ‘undefeated calendar year’ whilst the Wallabies ended the year with an all too familiar feeling….listening to ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ echo around an ecstatic stadium, and yet another loss.

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#2: A Sunny Afternoon at Sandy Park

LWOR european rugby contributor Francisco Isaac remembers fondly the match between the Exeter Chiefs and Ospreys at Sandy Park in January. A tight contest where both teams needed the bonus win to have any hopes to go through to the next stage of the European Champions Cup, it was a top class afternoon in the sun.

At the same time, Clermont were playing against the Bordeaux-Bégles in France. Clermont just needed a draw to reach the knock-out stages. Since 2011, Clermont have never missed this stage of the competition, making into to the final in 2015 [losing to champions Toulon]. Both matches would impact on all four teams chances, so it was a memorable weekend.

Head coach Rob Baxter needed the very best out of the Exeter player’s and he got what he wanted. An all-time perfect game, the Chiefs would manage to score 33 points (5 tries in total), while the Ospreys had an awful day and could only muster 17 offensive points.

Out and Out Offense from Exeter Chiefs

The Chiefs were quite impressive, especially in the scrum set piece. As Last Word on Rugby can show you. At the 16th minute of the first half, Exeter won a scrum on their side of halfway and started a wonderful attacking run from there.

A well-executed move from their backline, it bamboozled the Osprey’s defense to run the ball for thirty meters, easily breaking the welsh defense-line. The Chiefs made clear their intentions in the game, with an aggressive attacking line (of total of 12 clean breaks) all the time aiming to go for the try.

The Ospreys still made for an interesting opposition in the first half, reaching the try line themselves after a successful quick play. At half-time, the welsh team were only seven points behind Rob Baxter’s team, promising to fight for the win. Unfortunately, Alun Wyn Jones’s forwards dropped badly in the last thirty minutes. With that invitation, it prompted the Chiefs to secure a well-deserved victory.

Several Key Men Stood Out for Exeter

If you look closely to the statistics, the Chiefs only conceded five handling errors in over 600 meters with the ball in their possession. Every time Exeter produced an well planned move, they advanced up the field. Strongman Thomas Waldrom carrying the oval ball 23 times, was a massive effort.

There were other players who were essential for Exeter’s win: Michele Campagnaro and James Short especially. The English wing was terrific in attack, with a couple of strong moves that made the fans go ballistic.

That game was one of the best in all the European Champions Cup 2015/16 campaign, as the exciting gameplay made way for some stunning tries, many many huge tackles and an exhilarating game that ended with an even sweeter taste for the Chiefs–Clermont had just lost their game to Bordeaux.

Although the Chiefs weren’t the 2015/16 Aviva Premiership or European champions, but on that sunny afternoon in January, for Francisco Isaac they behaved like they were true champions.

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LWOR Highlights for 2016 – MCXM I

“Main photo credit”