2021 has been a crazy year full of ups and downs for all involved. It is the first time since the 2019 Rugby World Cup that all teams have been back in action and fans were treated to between 10 - 14 international fixtures every Saturday for the last month. The South finally got to travel to the North, the British & Irish Lions tour went ahead, and England avenged their World Cup defeat to the Boks. Most surprising of all, the All Blacks suffered back to back defeats to Ireland and France, a rarity for sure.
Whilst the South in general has boasted a good win ratio over their Northern counterparts, this year has blown the race wide open. For the first time I can remember in the last 10 - 15 years, one can comfortably state that the top 10 sides are all capable of beating one another on any given day. This is testament to the improvements made across the board and has really sparked a keen interest into the game again.
Looking away from the side shows of poor officiating, World Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, Dave Rennie and the laughable Jarvo 69 there have been some spectacles. The British & Irish Lions series fell short of expectation, mostly due to the absence of the red army and the Bok manne in the stadiums. A series win was still dished up by the Boks though and that kicked things off.
A young and resurgent French side almost rocked the boat, coming within minutes of a series win down under. A young England side was able to blood players that have proven to be great talents in the likes of Marcus Smith and Steward. The return of Quade Cooper saw the Aussies get the double over the Boks, whilst the further relaxation of the 'Guiteau' law saw Beale, Skelton, Mcmahon and Kerevi re-enter the fray.
After the Rugby Championship, the Southern sides were bullish about their chances in the November Tests, many expecting clean sweeps across the board. Australia on the back of a 4 game win streak were then toppled by England, Scotland and Wales. The Boks beat Wales and Scotland before succumbing to a 1 point defeat to England. The All Blacks, having won the Rugby Championship, made mince meat of the USA and Wales, before coming undone against Ireland and then France. Argentina however struggled to get going during the end of year tour.
There was some incredibly rugby played over this period and I honestly hope everyone got to watch the France v All Blacks game as it was an incredible spectacle to cap off the year. Who could have asked for better than a weekend featuring SA v England, Wallabies v Wales and France v All Blacks. I don't know what I am going to do with my weekends now that the Boks are done, but at least the URC returns this weekend along with fans to the stadiums for the 1st time.
We the rugby loving public have been spoilt for choice over the last couple of weekends. The World Cup is less than 2 years away now and at this point, there is no clear favorite. Many of the teams are on level footing, albeit with wholly different strategies in place. This competitiveness only serves to grow the game and I can't wait to see Ireland tour New Zealand next year, whilst we play host to Wales for the Incoming Tour.
P.S don't forget that we have the famous Barbarians game against Tonga to look forward to this coming weekend.