As the year draws to a close we take a look back over the first six months of 2010.
Florida was the venue for the first internationals of 2010 with USA and Canada eager to kick off Women’s Rugby World Cup year with victories. In the end they both did, Canada coming from behind to win the first 18-8 and USA surviving an injury-time conversion scare to triumph 11-10 to share the series.
Russia have their own big targets for the early part of the year, namely qualifying for their first ever Rugby World Cup via the European Nations Cup. Russia warmed up for that competition with a 30-15 victory over Namibia, a side who have already booked their passage to New Zealand in 2011.
The month of January also saw the build up to the next two legs in the IRB Sevens World Series with tournaments in Mar del Plata, Suva and Darwin. The South American Sevens took place in Mar del Plata with Argentina’s men and Brazil’s women living up to their billing as favourites by claiming the titles again.
The race to qualify for RWC 2011 resumed with the European Nations Cup top tier involving Georgia, Russia, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Germany. Georgia and Russia both went through the month unbeaten to confirm their passage to New Zealand, a third successive tournament for the Lelos and a first ever Rugby World Cup for their neighbours.
With Georgia and Russia having qualified – although not sure which pool they will slot into – the battle to finish third in the European Nations Cup is now only between Portugal and Romania, one which could be decided by their meeting in Lisbon on 20 March.
Ireland kicked off the defence of their RBS Six Nations crown, but an emphatic 33-10 loss in France ended hopes of back-to-back Grand Slams. In fact France were the only nation to end the month unbeaten after also beating Scotland and Wales. Italy also had cause to celebrate, having narrowly lost to England they then beat Scotland 16-12 in Rome for their first Six Nations win in nearly two years.
In the Women’s Six Nations, England continue to set the pace as they seek a record fifth successive title, conceding only one try – against Ireland – in their three matches. Meanwhile, in the Under 20 competition, the title race is much closer with five teams separated by only one point after three matches with Ireland topping the standings on point differential from England and Wales.
The IRB Sevens World Series resumed with the NZI Sevens in Wellington on 5-6 February. Fiji picked up their first Cup title of the season with a 19-14 defeat of Samoa in the final, while Australia (Plate), Wales (Bowl) and USA (Shield) also picked up silverware.
The Series then made its first appearance in Las Vegas, the new home of the USA Sevens. This time the impressive Samoans tasted success with a 33-12 victory over Series leaders New Zealand in the final. South Africa picked up their first success in the Plate final, while in the other finals USA (Bowl) and Scotland (Shield) enjoyed success.
Georgia saw their unbeaten record in the European Nations Cup 2010 ended after a surprise 22-10 loss to Romania, but an impressive 36-8 victory over Russia in Turkey saw them retain their title in style. The win confirmed Georgia as Europe 1 qualifiers for RWC 2011 to join Argentina, England, Scotland and the Play-off Winner in Pool B with Russia to face Australia, Ireland, Italy and USA in Pool B.
Georgia proved too strong for Russia in title decider - Photo: Tamar Kulumbegashvili
Romania also had cause to smile, their 20-9 victory over Portugal on 20 March guaranteeing them third place in the standings to keep alive their own RWC 2011 dream. Romania will now face either Ukraine or Lithuania for the right to represent Europe in the cross-continental play-off later this year. Germany, meanwhile, ended the two-year competition without a win to be relegated to Division 2A next season with Ukraine taking their place.
Another nation celebrating that weekend were France after Les Bleus beat England 12-10 at the Stade de France to secure a first Grand Slam since 2004. The final weekend also yielded a first win of the 2010 Championship for Scotland, the 23-20 success not only denying Ireland the Triple Crown but assuring their also avoided the wooden spoon at Italy’s cost.
In the Women’s Six Nations, England realised their goal of a record fifth successive title and fourth Grand Slam in that period, although only after Aurelie Bailon’s last second kick from the halfway line fell agonising short to condemn her side to an 11-10 defeat. Ireland finished third after three confidence-boosting wins on home soil, while Wales were the surprise recipients of the wooden spoon after just one win.
The IRB World Sevens Series stopped off in Adelaide and Hong Kong this month with USA stealing the headlines in Australia as they beat England in the pool stages and went on to reach a first ever Cup final. They lost to Samoa 38-10 in the final, the islanders cutting New Zealand’s lead at the top of the standings to just two points after they could only win the Plate in Adelaide.
A week later in Hong Kong, it was Samoa celebrating once again following a 24-21 defeat of New Zealand in the final, a success which saw them take a first ever lead in the World Series standings. The other finals saw Australia beat South Africa in the Plate final with Canada and Hong Kong claiming the Bowl and Shield respectively.
Lithuania wrote their name into the history books on 24 April by overwhelming Serbia 77-5 in a European Nations Cup match in Belgrade. The victory was Lithuania’s 18th consecutive Test win, dating back to 27 May 2006, and took them past the record held by New Zealand (1968-1969) and South Africa (1997-1998).
Another team celebrating a first during the month was the South Africa women’s team, who beat their fellow Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 participants Kazakhstan twice in Dubai to record their first ever victories away from home. They went on to make it four in a row with a series win in Scotland in June.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, edged hosts Singapore 23-16 in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division I final to earn promotion to the top tier of the competition in 2011, alongside Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea and Hong Kong. The 2010 edition of the Top 5 kicked off in late April with Hong Kong upsetting Korea 32-8 and Kazakhstan proving too strong for Arabian Gulf, winning 43-28 in Almaty.
Japan entered the Top 5 fray a week later and immediately sent an ominous warning to their rivals by crushing Korea 71-13 with Kosuke Endo scoring five tries in Gyeonsang. John Kirwan’s side didn’t let up, brushing aside Arabian Gulf (60-5), Kazakhstan (101-7) and Hong Kong (94-5) to claim a third successive A5N title and a place at Rugby World Cup 2011 alongside hosts New Zealand, France, Tonga and Canada in Pool A.
Kazakhstan finished as runners up to keep alive their hopes of joining Japan at RWC 2011 through the cross-continental play-off, while Arabian Gulf bowed out of the international arena – the combined multi-state Union will cease to exist at end of 2010 – with their first ever Top 5 victories against Hong Kong and Korea.
As the month drew to a close there was the small matter of the IRB Sevens World Series champion to crown, with the final two legs taking place at Twickenham and Murrayfield. It was Australia, though, celebrating at the London Sevens after beating South Africa 19-14 in a thrilling final to claim a first Cup title since Brisbane in 2002.
New Zealand won the Plate, but travelled to Edinburgh seven points behind Samoa in the standings. This meant that New Zealand had to win on Scottish soil and Samoa fail to reach the final, something they seemed like doing until Lolo Lui's drop goal in the dying seconds of extra time in the semi finals. The rest was history, Samoa beat Australia 41-14 in the final to spark celebrations in Edinburgh and back home.
VIDEO: Samoa Sevens' crowning glory
The Pacific Rugby Cup yielded a number of firsts in 2010. The representative team tournament was held for the first time largely in one country (Fiji), with Fiji Warriors becoming the first team to successfully defend the title by beating Fiji Barbarians 26-17 in the first single country final in the PRC's five-year history.
The annual pilgrimage down south for the June internationals offered little to smile about for the northern hemisphere nations with Ireland conceding 66 points against the All Blacks and France shipping 40+ in South Africa and Argentina. There was better news with England winning a first Test in Australia since the RWC 2003 final and Scotland winning their series in Argentina 2-0.
The next generation of world stars were contesting the IRB Junior World Championship in the Litoral region of Argentina during June with the question to be answered could anyone deny New Zealand three titles in a row. Australia, with a glut of Sevens players in their ranks, impressed en route to a first ever JWC final but ultimately had no answer to a scintillating display of rugby from the Baby Blacks and lost 62-17.
Samoa's year to remember continued with victory in the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup, the hosts defying the odds with three late tries to beat Fiji 31-9 and pip their Rugby World Cup 2011 Pool D opponents to the title. Japan, the only side to beat Samoa, finished third with Tonga fourth after losing all three matches, albeit never by more than three points.
The IRB Nations Cup also yielded an unexpected champion in Namibia, who had never previously won a match at the tournament, beating hosts Romania, defending champions Scotland A and Georgia to lift the silverware. Romania beat Italy A and the Argentina Jaguars to finish as runners up, while Georgia got in on the upsets by also beating Scotland A.
Keep an eye out for the review of July to December over the coming days, as well as a look back in more detail at some of the IRB tournaments, including the Women’s Rugby World Cup and the IRB Junior World Championship as well as a look forward to a Rugby World Cup year in 2011.