2020 started so well in the Rugby ecosystem. Rugby was riding on the crest of a wave - South Africa had recently been crowned champions of the World following an incredible victory at the hugely popular and much celebrated Japan Rugby World Cup. The world hoped this victory in the most spirited of team sports would bring positive change to such a divided nation; Rugby Sevens was heading into an Olympic year, excited to bring our great game to new eyes across the globe; financial investment was much mooted to be coming to many leagues and tournaments; and International players across the British & Irish isles were looking to bounce back from a tough RWC and stake early claims for the British & Irish Lions tour to SA in 2021.
In March, everything changed. The CoVid-19 pandemic swept violently throughout the world, brutally taking the lives of over 1.6 million people, and severely infecting over 74 million more. This awful unseen killer ‘Coronavirus’, was ruining the lives of millions. The World as we knew it had changed.
Rugby of course, like all other sports, was massively impacted by the pandemic. International matches, domestic leagues, tournaments and the Olympic Games were all postponed or cancelled. The rugby world was shaken to its core.
But as always with our great game, we rallied together and gradually we continue to bounce back. Rugby is returning. It’s started with the professional game, but we are slowly seeing shoots of life coming back in the coveted community game, the lifeblood of rugby across the globe. We all hope that 2021 will bring a full return to the game we love – back, and better than ever. We hope.
So what of rugby 2020 as it did happen?
England were crowned Guinness 6 Nations Champions, following the longest tournament in history and a captivating final round of matches. Scotland pipped Wales in Llanelli 14-10; England secured the required try bonus point away in Italy; and France beat Ireland in a thrilling victory in Paris, 35-27 – but it wasn’t quite enough to overtake England for the title.
The Red Roses of England secured another impressive Grand Slam, with victory over Italy in November, an impressive 8 try victory 26-54 – setting them up perfectly for an assault on Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand.
The Rugby Championship
A trimmed down, three team Rugby Championship kicked off on 31st October, and it was pretty magical to see fans in attendance! A thrilling tournament saw New Zealand take the title, despite losing to both Australia and Argentina. The Los Pumas victory over the All Blacks, their first on a memorable day. The Wallabies and Los Pumas also shared in 2 gripping draws – 15 all and 16 all respectively.
Autumn Nations Cup
November saw the launch of the Autumn Nations Cup, replacing the traditional northern hemisphere November internationals, the ANC 2020 welcomed 8 teams together in 2 pools of 4. Pool A consists of England, Ireland, Wales, and Georgia, and Pool B is France, Scotland, Italy, and Fiji. The plan was for each team to play the teams in their pool once by the end of the third weekend. An unfortunate outbreak of coronavirus in the Fiji camp meant that they did not play a match until the final round.
The final pool standings saw England and France top their respective pools, with Ireland and Scotland finishing second, Wales and Italy third and Georgia and Fiji finishing bottom. The ‘Finals weekend’ on the first weekend of December, saw England secure an exhilarating 22-19 victory over France in extra-time. The French having led going into the final of the 80 minutes. Ireland secured overall 3rd place with 31-16 victory over Scotland; Wales beat Italy 38-18 and Fiji finally made their mark on the tournament with a 38-24 victory over Georgia.
In a first for Rugby, Amazon Prime were welcomed as the lead broadcaster, with fans able to stream 14 of the 16 matches live.
An 11 month long Heineken Champions Cup culminated with a pulsating final in Bristol. The Gallagher Premiership Champions, Exeter Chiefs bagged their first ever European Cup victory with a thrilling 31-27 victory over Top 14 side Racing 92.
The Challenge Cup semi-finals saw two Anglo-French matches with Bristol Bears taking on Bordeaux Begles and RC Toulon taking on Leicester Tigers. The matches went the way of Bristol and Toulon respectively to setup an England vs France final. The Bears of Bristol took the trophy in a famous victory for the West Country side.
Following their famous first European Cup victory, the Exeter Chiefs completed their first ever domestic double with a hard fought victory over a spirited Wasps side, reduced by an untimely CoVid outbreak in their squad. The Chiefs ran out 19-13 victors at Twickenham thanks to 14 points from the boot of skipper Joe Simmonds and an early try from Henry Slade.
Following a 13-3 all-Irish Semi-Final victory over Munster, the blues of Leinster were crowned Guinness Pro 14 champions again with a 27-5 victory over Ulster, who overcame Edinburgh in their Semi-Final 22-19. This Leinster crowning was their third Pro 14 title in a row and completed the perfect season, with 17 wins from 17 matches. The invincibles.
In June 2020 the LNR took the tough decision to abandon the 2019-20 Top 14 season amid the coronavirus crisis. No champions were named and relegation for the season was scrapped. The LNR also confirmed that no Pro D2 club would be promoted. At the time of abandonment, Bordeaux Begles were sat on top, ahead of Le Lou, Racing 92 and RC Toulon.