Rugby Union

Rugby year in review: Draws, drama and an anthem to remember forever

There's rarely a dull year in Australian rugby and 2020 did not disappoint on a number of fronts.

Let's recall what has been a chaotic 12 months it has been for the game they play in heaven.

Former Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle and Dave Rennie at the Wallabies coach’s unveiling in January. Credit:Louise Kennerley


Whether it was the Wallabies notching up three draws from six Tests, to Australia almost hosting what would have been a brilliant four-team Rugby Championship, 2020 had its ups and downs but left fans feeling a little unfulfilled following a turbulent year for the game on many fronts.

A year after the Israel Folau saga, 2020 offered up no shortage of curveballs for administrators, with chief executive Raelene Castle sensationally resigning before the year really got going.

That was just the beginning.


The Brumbies once again showed why they are the benchmark of Australian rugby by beating the Reds in Canberra in a truncated 12-week Super Rugby AU competition.

In truth though, COVID-19 was the big reset southern hemisphere rugby truly needed and Australia and New Zealand will be winners in the long run. Super Rugby is all but dead and buried, with a trans-Tasman competition set to take place from 2022, meaning that matches in the middle of the night are a thing of the past.

While it’s hard to argue the Wallabies truly came out on top as winners, Argentina coach Mario Ledesma will be be enjoying a juicy steak with a few bottles of Malbec after helping the Pumas orchestrate a famous win over the All Blacks. What they went through getting to that moment was nothing short of incredible.

Argentina’s Santiago Carreras and head coach Mario Ledesma after the Pumas’ 25-15 win over New ZealandCredit:Stu Walmsley/Rugby Australia


Castle lost her job in bitter circumstances, with former Brumbies and Rebels boss Rob Clarke taking over in an interim capacity with a mountain of work to do.

On the field, Australia’s men’s and women’s sevens teams were significantly affected by COVID-19 given all their World Series events were cancelled from March onwards. They missed an opportunity, too, to feature at the Olympics but will hopefully get the chance in 2021.

It was a year to forget for the All Blacks and New Zealand Rugby. While Ian Foster’s men did win the Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations, they should have been beaten in Wellington, fell at Suncorp Stadium before suffering a humiliating defeat to Argentina at Bankwest Stadium. As for NZR, it lost hosting rights for the Rugby Championship – which then became the Tri Nations – to Australia because of an overly cautious government and astute late pitch from RA, who schooled their trans-Tasman rivals.

Don't forget the Waratahs. While the Western Force lost all eight Super Rugby AU matches, the Waratahs failed to make the top three of a five-team competition, having already lost five of their six original Super Rugby matches. With a string of high profile players making their way offshore next year, Rob Penney's young team have a tough 2021 in front of them.

The Waratahs go down to the Brumbies in a narrow loss. Credit:Getty


It’s hard to go past the leadership saga that plagued Rugby Australia. Castle had come within a whisker of signing a new broadcast deal before COVID-19 but the knives were out in sections of the media and the board was on edge, as were a number of influential figures in the game. RA and the Rugby Union Players Association were also involved in a spat over pay cuts.

Eleven former Wallabies captains co-signed a sensational letter calling for change at the top, prompting Castle to phone interim chairman Paul McLean not long after to say she was out.

Cameron Clyne ended his time as chairman in March. It looked like new director Peter Wiggs would take over as chairman but his push to get Australian Olympic Committee boss Matt Carroll installed as RA chief executive fell flat on its face, so he resigned in dramatic circumstances. A day earlier, Wiggs had pledged not to exit stage left if he didn’t get his way but he spat the dummy and won't be seen again.

Rob Clarke and Hamish McLennan on the day Australia were awarded hosting rights to the Rugby Championship. Credit:Getty


The duo of Clarke and new chairman Hamish McLennan are hard to split for this one. While they won’t be on everyone’s Christmas card list, given they had to slash costs inside RA and have made life difficult for Super Rugby franchises, the pair have jagged a number of wins. Despite being five weeks behind the NRL, rugby got back on its feet with the introduction of Super Rugby AU. Tests were on the agenda, most of which would have been in New Zealand, before some quick thinking ensured RA jagged hosting rights to the Rugby Championship. Although South Africa later withdrew from the tournament, it was a win to get Test rugby back.

The pair also worked on a significant new broadcast deal, which will see Nine and Stan Sport lead the game into a fresh new chapter, and didn’t bow down to their Kiwi neighbours when negotiations heated up.

SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos will take over from Clarke in February and has a lot on his plate.


With Super W play-offs being cancelled and the female sevens program coming to a halt, there wasn’t a great deal of women’s rugby in 2020. Sharni Williams and Ema Masi were the two standouts when they did get on the field.

It is, however, hard not to mention Indigenous teenager Olivia Fox, who …


… provided rugby with a moment that could down in Australian sporting history. Her dual rendition of the national anthem was spine-tingling stuff that sparked a national conversation around how it could be done again in the future. Bravo Rugby Australia.

It was also hard to go past footage of Ledesma crying in the coaches box the moment he realised Argentina were about to beat the All Blacks for the first time in their history. The celebrations on the field were wild.

An honourable mention to Reece Hodge’s 55-metre penalty kick in Wellington that hit the post. It would have been Australia’s first victory on Kiwi soil since 2001 and Hodge could have dined out on the lunch circuit for the rest of his days if it went over. He still might.


It feels a bit master-servant at the moment,” said McLennan of the Australia-New Zealand relationship, which he later described as being at its “lowest ebb”.

A few months later Clarke and NZR boss Mark Robinson were walking barefoot down Manly Beach like the start of a rom-com flick. How things change.

An honourable mention to this one from Michael Cheika in April, who then popped up in the Argentina coaching box in November: “I’ve always felt that I couldn’t ever go back and coach against a team I’ve already coached. I feel that’s almost being a traitor.”


The Queensland Reds will win Super Rugby AU in 2021, the Wallaroos will finish fifth at the Women’s World Cup, Australia’s women's sevens side will win another gold at the Tokyo Olympics, the Wallabies will come awfully close once again to winning the Bledisloe and rugby’s appeal will increase as a result of more free-to-air exposure.

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