|Photo: IRB Mahamasina Stadium in Antananarivo hosted arguably the match of 2012|
While the Heineken Cup is still taking place as are other rugby tournaments in the Northern Hemisphere there is no more test rugby to be played in 2012. With the exception of the Emirates Cup of Nations in Dubai the final tests were played earlier this month and as such it is time to consider which games were the best of the year. The November Internationals had some surprize results but overall there were not too many close encounters. Both Argentina and Samoa defeated Wales in Cardiff but were in control of both matches rather than having the lead constantly change hands. Similarly England´s defeat of New Zealand was quite one sided as England won by a record margin. France´s win over Australia was impressive but the Wallabies were utterly out played. Tonga´s win over Scotland was a superb achievement but the quality of rugby was low. Earlier in the year there were some solid matches in June. Scotland upset Australia in Newcastle and Argentine without twenty-four European based players completed a late victory against France. Like in November, however, the upset results were not the better matches. Australia recovered to win three tests against Wales. All three could have been loses. England also pushed South Africa but did not do enough in the end as it drew one and lost two tests. Scotland went on to also defeat Fiji and Samoa with the match against Samoa being a nail-bitter as Scotland won with a late try.
Action in the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship saw some very good matches and some not so good ones. Australia, for instance, lost 22-0 against New Zealand in Auckland but nevertheless finished second in the tournament. Its most exciting match was arguably its come from behind win over Argentina on the Gold Coast. New Zealand had few problems in winning the Southern Hemisphere´s competition while the Six Nations was entirely different. Wales surprized many by completing a Six nations Grand Slam and there was plenty of talk about Wales finishing the year as one of the top four nations in the IRB World Rankings and to therefore get a favorable draw. Instead Wales lost its seven other matches. The Six Nations had a number of close matches but overall the games were not the best. Some examples being Italy´s win over Scotland, Wales´s win over England, England´s win over France and the draw between France and Ireland. The pick of the matches of 2012 have not yet been mentioned. The top five matches of 2012 are below. Unlucky to be included are Scotland´s win over Samoa and Australia´s 25-23 win over Wales in the second test of four played between the nations this year.
Top Five International Matches of 2012
5 New Zealand v Ireland
Ireland was on the verge of a history making first ever victory over New Zealand. It would have been a tremendous achievement not only for this reason but also because the game was played in New Zealand. The All Blacks are not known for the use of dropgoals but on this occassion Dan Carter won the match for the home side thanks to a last-gasp dropgoal. Ireland had held a 10-9 lead at the interval and ought to have won the match. New Zealand were made to look like a team far from being the best in the world but in the end the men in black managed to continue the legacy of never having lost against Ireland. As good as this game was New Zealand responded like only the All Blacks can with a 60-0 victory over Ireland seven days latter. The Irish played three tests in New Zealand in June and will face the USA and Canada in North America in June 2013. New Zealand will host France for three tests.
4 Canada v USA
Not all things good have to be gourmet. In rugby this has become very clear to fans interested in the global game. There were plenty of upset people in the lead up to Rugby World Cup 2007 when the IRB announced plans to reduce the number of teams at Rugby World Cup tournaments from twenty to sixteen. Such a scenario would have likely meant there would be no Tier Three Nations participating at all. It could have meant that one of Canada or the USA would have missed out on Rugby World Cup 2011 even though both proved to be competitive against at least one Tier One nation each. If Canada had not defeated Tonga then France would have been eliminated at the group phase. The same side, of course, finished second and were seen as unlucky to lose the final against New Zealand. The USA denied Ireland a bonus point while it also gave Italy a tough match as it took a penalty try for Italy to collect a bonus point victory. The North American rivalry continues to favor Canada but it is very evenly matched and the June 2012 match in Kingston, Ontario was no exception.
3 Argentina v South Africa
Seven days after a forgettable debut appearance in the SANZAR competition Argentina had an opportunity to make emends. The return match took place in Argentina´s fourth largest city, Mendoza and there was little to suggest the home team would win given how the Cape Town match unfolded. Los Pumas, however, impressed with a strong showing and had control of the match and were very unlucky as a charged down Marcelo Bosch kick turned the match as the visitors were able to draw the game. The South Americans may well look back at what might have been based on letting a win slip away but also on who was playing. Juan Martín Hernández missed the match through injury which saw Nicolás Sánchez start. Sánchez would go on to impressive in November, playing a key role in the win over Wales. For the Mendoza test he was not the goalkicker though as Stade Français´s Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga had the responsibility. He had a mixed performance in missing some kickable chances. Sánchez would prove to be Argentina´s leading kicker in November. The result nevertheless confirmed Argentina as a worthy participant in The Rugby Championship.
2 Ireland v Wales
Ireland is the only team to have made two appearance on the top five list of the best international rugby matches of the year 2012. The Luck of the Irish is evident here in that both its appearances are for losing matches. The match between Ireland and Wales was a rematch of their Rugby World Cup 2011 Quarter Final and was played at Dublin´s Aviva Stadium. While Wales scored three tries to two this was nevertheless a match that could have gone either way and Ireland looked like it would be the winner. Wales, though, held firm and got the victory thanks to a late try by the highly impressive George North. The match also featured one of the best tries of the year that for some unknown reason did not make the IRB´s list of the best four tries of 2012. The match was the best match in the Six Nations and the best of all played between Tier One nations in 2012.
1 Madagascar v Namibia
The match of the year did not feature Tier One sides nor did it feature Tier Two nations. Rather the best match was a quite remarkable African Cup match played Antananarivo. The city was the setting for the Group 1B matches which involved the home side Madagascar, Morocco, Senegal and the four time consecutive Rugby World Cup participant, Namibia. While Namibia has not been able to win any match in its four tournament appearances it has nonetheless always qualified as Africa 1. It´s path to qualification has not always been easy with the likes of the Cote d´Ivoire, Tunisia and Zimbabwe all having success but not being able to qualify. Namibia thus entered the African Cup event in Antananarivo as firm favorites but its performances suggest it will have possibly its toughest ever set of qualifying matches for England 2015. It started with a 20-18 loss against Senegal while the other match saw Madagascar defeated Morocco 35-28. Senegal defeated Morocco 26-25 while the Madagascar v Namibia match was just remarkable. It featured over 100 points with the host nation winning a thriller by three points to shake up the African rugby order. The 57-54 victory was without question the most notable result of the year. The teams were separated by more than thirty placed in the IRB World Rankings. In other words it is comparable to Brazil defeating the All Blacks.