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Top 10 stories on Rugby.com.au from 2021

Mon, 20/12/2021, 2:24 am
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Quade Cooper comes in clutch

2021 has been a wild and incredible year for Rugby in Australia.

From fairytale returns, incredible comebacks and historic ventures, the year has thrown up plenty of exciting stories across the Rugby landscape.

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With this in mind, Rugby.com.au focuses and looks back at the top ten best stories from 2021.

10. Europe arrivals

2021 saw a plethora of Wallabies return to the set-up as COVID saw a temporary re-think into how the 'Giteau Law' was implemented.

More recently, the Spring Tour provided the opportunity for a host of Europe-based players to once again pull on the jersey, with the likes of Kurtley Beale, Rory Arnold and Tolu Latu welcomed back into the frame.

All three would start against Wales as Beale turned back the clock, nearly getting the 14-man Wallabies home with some incredible passages of play.

Whilst their returns were great to see and helped build depth ahead of the 2023 World Cup, it was the story of Ollie Hoskins that took centre stage, with the London Irish plucked from relative obscurity to play his first International against England.

Hoskins' story and reaction to selection typified what it means to play for your country. Despite the defeat, his debut and the trio's returns were a shining light in a tour that didn't deliver the results the squad were after.

9. A rising Force

After their sudden return in 2020, the Western Force showed they are here to stay during Super Rugby AU and Trans-Tasman.

Their season kicked into gear in Round Three, holding on for a narrow win over the Waratahs, breaking a 1329-day drought.

This gave them the confidence to make an unlikely push to the finals, eventually claiming their spot after a shock win over eventual champions Reds at HBF Park.

Whilst they were below their best in the Qualifying Final against the Brumbies, coach Tim Sampson and the squad can take plenty of confidence out of their showings during Trans-Tasman heading into 2022.

8. Remaining unbeaten

The Waratahs continue to be the team to beat in Super W as they maintained their unbeaten run with a fourth straight title.

Maya Stewart set the tempo early with a four-try maul in the opening match against the Reds, putting her in serious contention for the Wallaroos in 2022.

They would back this up with a cruisy win over the Brumbies before meeting the Reds in the Final in Coffs Harbour.

In the end, the class of the 'Tahs and Arabella McKenzie was too much as they eased to a 45-12 victory, with McKenzie contributing 15 of those points.

Whilst McKenzie will miss the start of next year's Super W, you'd be a brave punter to go against them making it five on the trot in 2022

7. Olympic agony into Dubai ecstasy

With the eyes firmly on the podium, the Aussie Sevens sides headed to Tokyo full of confidence.

However, they failed to live up to their own expectations as both sides were knocked out of the Quarter-Finals by Fiji.

After a tough campaign, a return to the World Series circuit was just what the program needed as the Australian teams shone in the opening two rounds of the 2021-22 series.

Back-to-back titles for the women's side and a Final appearance for the men has both teams heading in the right direction ahead of a stacked 2022 which includes the Commonwealth Games and Rugby Sevens World Cup.

6. The great escape

What a way to start the International season.

The Wallabies started slowly against France, conceding a 15-0 lead before getting back into the contest.

It all looked to have been in vain with the visitors only needing a clean passage at the lineout to seal the victory.

However, a wild series of events saw Taniela Tupou and Tate McDermott cause the turnover, setting the platform for Noah Lolesio to kick the game-winner.

It set the scene for the rest of the year of a gutsy Wallabies side time after time refusing to give up, producing heroic performances with their backs firmly against the wall.

5. Super Rugby AU

The biggest game of the domestic calendar saw the two best teams battle it out in front of a massive crowd at Suncorp Stadium.

The 41,637 in attendance, the largest crowd for a Super Rugby game since 2004, witnessed an incredible back-and-forth contest as both sides looked for ascendency.

In the end, an 84th-minute pass from Kalani Thomas found James O'Connor in the corner for a famous victory, breaking the hearts of a 13-man Brumbies outfit that led for the majority of the match.

After a tough 2020, to see a near-record crowd at full volume was exactly what Australian Rugby needed.

4. A new dawn

2021 represented a fresh start for Rugby in Australia as they entered a new deal with the Nine Network and Stan.

The deal brought Super Rugby onto free-to-air television for the first time in its history, delivering a 232% increase in viewership from the 2020 AU Final.

As border restrictions began to ease, this allowed for the creation of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman - a five-week competition between the best of Australia and New Zealand.

Whilst it was dominated by the Kiwis, the new format laid the platform for the introduction of Super Rugby Pacific as Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika joined the ten-team competition.

This has given Super Rugby a much-needed freshen up as it looks to launch into the future.

3. The ultimate comeback

As touched on before, there were some really inspiring Wallabies performances in 2021 but the third Test against France in Brisbane tops it.

With the series tied at 1-all, the hosts saw themselves down to 14 after Marika Koroibete was sent off for a dubious high tackle.

From here, the Wallabies defied the numbers advantage as Michael Hooper galvanised his side with an inspirational performance.

Young guns Noah Lolesio and Tate McDermott firmly established themselves on the world stage to seal a famous victory, with Lolesio once again kicking the penalty to win the game with two minutes remaining.

2. Preferred candidate

With the next generation of Wallabies firmly taking centre stage in 2021, the process of capturing the 2027 World Cup on Australian soil is crucial for the future of the sport.

From the official launch back in April, rapid developments have seen the process fast-tracked to a point where Australia was announced as the 'preferred candidate' for the event in November.

This positions Australia as the near unbackable favourite heading into next May's announcement by World Rugby.

With the Lions slated to return in 2025, it sets up a perfect platform for the sport's long-term future with a team that will likely be in its prime in six years time.

1.Return of Quade

It was always Quade.

Cooper's return is the stuff of fairytales, coming in as an SOS from the wilderness to lead the Wallabies home with an after-the-siren kick against the defending world champions and number one ranked South Africa.

The flyhalf along with Samu Kerevi were the catalysts for Australia's five-game winning streak on home soil as they backed it up in Brisbane before wins over Argentina and Japan.

Whilst they would not travel to Europe, their influence has left many to seriously question how Australia proceeds in regards to selection.

Along with this, it established the Wallabies under Dave Rennie as a side to be wary of heading into the future, setting up an exciting 18-month build to the World Cup.

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