Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The year in sport 2018: Rugby Union

Posted on 30 December 2018 by Robert Sutton

3rd February 2018. Stade de France, Paris. 82 minutes on the clock, France lead Ireland 13-12.

The away side go through the phases and work an opening for Jonny Sexton to win the match with a drop goal. A result that began a remarkable year for Irish rugby.

They swatted aside Wales, Italy and Scotland back in the home comforts of the Aviva before descending on Twickenham.

On a snowy St Patrick’s Day, Ireland completed only their third Grand Slam with a 24-15 win over England, who finished a disappointing fifth.

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Wales won all three matches in Cardiff to finish second, while Scotland were third having beaten England for the first time in ten years.

In the summer tests, there was an historic moment for South African rugby as Siya Kolisi became the first ‘non-white’ captain of the Springboks.

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He led his side to a 2-1 series win over England with the Boks fighting from 21-0 down in the first test to win a superb match 42-39.

Ireland suffered their only defeat of the year in the first test against Australia but they fought back to win a series down under for the first time, taking the deciding match 20-16 in Sydney.

New Zealand once again won the Rugby Championship, but it was not without a scare. They lost 36-34 to South Africa in Wellington and in the return match, they trailed 30-13 going into the final quarter before 19 unanswered points saw them home.

Australia had a bitterly disappointing tournament which included a shock home defeat against Argentina.

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The showdown between Ireland and New Zealand was the eagerly anticipated fixture of the Autumn tests and the game in Dublin did not disappoint with Ireland winning 16-9 for their first win over the All Blacks on Irish soil.

The All Blacks could have lost twice in the Autumn but for a controversial disallowed try for England at Twickenham.

Eddie Jones’ side rounded off a below par year with wins against Australia, South Africa and Japan.

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Wales won all four Autumn Internationals including a first win over Australia in 11 matches.

On the domestic front, there was a changing of the guard in the Premiership with Newcastle qualifying for the semi finals for the first time.

Traditional powerhouses such as Bath, Leicester Tigers and Northampton now find themselves in the bottom half of the table.

There was to be no fairy-tale for Newcastle as they were beaten by Exeter in the semi-final, while Saracens saw off Wasps in the other semi-final. Saracens lifted the title for a third time in four seasons winning the final 29-10.

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As the current season hits the halfway mark, Exeter and Saracens have pulled clear at the top of the table with Gloucester in line for a first semi-final since 2011.

The battle for fourth looks set to go to right to the wire. A resurgent Northampton along with Harlequins currently are front-running with Sale in the heady heights of a Champions Cup spot.

In Europe, Leinster completed a Pro14/Champions Cup double with a nervy victory over Racing 92 in the European final, played, to much praise, in Bilbao.

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The Irish province are once again looking the team to beat for the 2019 title, with the final being held at Newcastle United’s St James Park.

Saracens once more are leading the English charge with four time champions Toulouse the best from France so far.

Featured photograph/Rob Sutton