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Total Flanker Awards 2020

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Here we are again – it’s that time of year where we acknowledge those from the world of rugby who have, for one reason or another, caught our attention during the past 12 months.


And what an utterly weird year it has been. 2020 has been a year like no other and a year I doubt any of us would care to repeat, thanks to a certain virus that continues to affect everyone on a daily basis. So much, and yet so little, has happened.

Welcome, nevertheless, to the 14th (yes, there have been that many) Annual Total Flanker Awards.

So, please take your seats as we crack on…


The first award of the day is the Total Flanker Singularly Biggest Impact on Rugby Union Wordwide Award. That’s quite an accolade don’t you think? And, I assure you, it’s recipient is well deserving of such an honour. Please put your hands together, ladies and gentlemen, for the Covid-19 Virus, which has, singlehandedly, managed to cause unprecedented disruption to the world of rugby – including the forced re-shaping of Super Rugby, the exclusion of South Africa from the Rugby Championship and the postponement of all rugby in Europe, with the Six Nations and domestic and European competitions not reaching a conclusion until the Autumn, whilst also pushing unions and clubs alike to the brink of insolvency. Quite some achievement, congratulations.

Moving on, and in similar vein, our second award of the day is the Total Flanker Sitting Atop the World Looking Down AwardThis gong goes to current World Champions, South Africa, who have, since their victory in the World Cup Final over England over 12 months ago, been sitting at the top of World Rugby’s rankings without playing a single game, thanks to the effects of Covid-19. I am not for one minute suggesting that the Boks are not currently the number 1 team – it’s just that we have no way of knowing. To be able to stay at the top without playing a single minute of rugby does suggest that there is something fundamentally flawed with the rankings system but, hey, that’s not South Africa’s problem. 


Next up, the Total Flanker Should I Be Worried? Award. I refer to the news earlier this week that eight former professional rugby players are starting a legal claim against the game’s authorities for negligence, having been diagnosed with early signs of dementia and probable Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy caused by repeated blows to the head while playing or training. The risks of dementia have been known for a few years but, with the game seemingly becoming more and more collision based, I doubt things are much safer today. I worry for myself, having suffered a couple of serious concussions and innumerable bangs to the head in my day, and for my son, who may well decide someday that his long term health is not worth risking. The Award therefore goes to the eight former players who have stuck their heads above the parapet to draw attention to the issue – including Steve Thompson and Alex Popham

Halfway through and a quick break for refreshments? No? Ok, let’s move on…the next award is the Total Flanker This International Coaching Lark is More Difficult Than I Thought Award. The award goes to Wayne Pivac who has found coaching Wales to be more than a little tricky. Received wisdom was that Pivac would abandon the moribund tactics favoured by former coach Warren Gatland and transform Wales into rugby’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters. That it hasn’t quite worked out like that should come as no great surprise. Gatland’s greatest trick was create Welsh teams that were much greater than the sum of their parts, something Pivac is struggling to emulate. I’m not saying he won’t be successful if given time, but 2020 has been an annus horribilis for Pivac and Wales.


So, we now reach the penultimate award of the day – the Total Flanker It’s Time To Put Your House In Order Award. I refer of course to Premiership Rugby and the Clubs of the English Premiership who, it is fair to say, have had a troubled year. There has been the enforced relegation of Saracens owing to salary cap breaches, the imposition of wage cuts, talk of clubs breaking away, a failure to open up the books of all clubs to forensic audit, the failure to adopt the key measures recommended by Lord Myner in his report which has been described by many as a “blueprint for professional rugby”, the ridiculous retention of “marquee” player exemptions to the salary cap, unnecessary payments to a leading consulting firm and the debacle around positive Covid tests as the season reached its conclusion. All in all, an “absolute circus”, the biggest tragedy of all being the failure to use the time afforded by the Covid-19 hiatus to map out a sensible and sustainable future. The award is well deserved.


And finally, la pièce de résistance, our final award, as we present the Total Flanker Unsung Heroes Award. This award goes to all those coaches, managers and volunteers up and down the land who, despite being faced with the enormous hurdles imposed by the Covid-19 restrictions, have somehow kept grassroots and community rugby alive by their dedication, enthusiasm and sheer bloody mindedness. As I type this, fixtures are being organised up and down the country and it does look as if, despite my fears, there will be rugby to play this season. It may not be rugby as we know it, but it will be rugby nevertheless and as far as I am concerned it is great news. And I think it is  completely fitting that, on behalf of all those coaches, managers and volunteers, the award is presented posthumously to Sgt Matiu Ratana, former coach of East Grinstead Rugby Club, who tragically lost his life while on police duty in September.


That’s that then, all done and dusted for another year. Hearty congratulations to all of tonight’s award winners. I am sure we are all hoping and (for those of certain persuasions) praying that 2020 will fade rapidly into the rear view mirror and that 2021 will see a return to something resembling normality, both in terms of rugby and life in general.


Thank you to all those that continue to stick with this blog and all its associated nonsense. I remain grateful and amazed in equal measure that there is an audience out there…

In the meantime please do have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year… 

Total Flanker – the older I get, the better I was


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