The jaw-dropping moments that stunned the rugby world in 2021

2021 has ended how it started.

Covid cases rising, no fans in grounds, a certain quarter of Welsh fans questioning Wayne Pivac and an even larger one bemoaning the Welsh Rugby Union.

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Of course, that’s not to say the last 12 months haven’t thrown up moments that have raised an eyebrow or two.

With that in mind, let’s look back over some of the more remarkable moments of 2021.

The Rassie show

Where else to begin than the part of the year we’ve all largely tried to forget: the bizarre Rassie Erasmus show that accompanied the Lions tour this year.

Perhaps if the Lions tour had felt more like a Lions tour, rather than a strange fanless two-city tour between two bubbles, the sideshow might not have demanded as much oxygen as it did.

But, as a largely turgid and mean-spirited tour played out, the actions of Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus became the overriding narrative.

Read more: The exciting and hugely talented new Welsh rugby players ready to light up the game in 2022

The war of words between the two camps was largely par for the course – a standard tussle of pressure-building on officials that all coaches indulge in.

The work of Jaco Johan on social media to clip up the odd example of Lions infringing was unedifying, but it was the hour-long rant uploaded to Vimeo featuring Erasmus that opened Pandora’s Box.

From then on, the Lions tour was a toxic mess.

As for Erasmus, he eventually got his punishment – even if it only took the best part of half a year.

Still, if his Twitter videos are anything to go by, it looks like he’s enjoying his time off.

Alun Wyn Jones’ Lazarus impression

Of course, not all that stunned during the Lions tour was necessarily a bad thing.

Alun Wyn Jones’ tour-ending shoulder injury against Japan in Edinburgh was a lamentable moment – with the Welsh second-row’s fourth tour, and first as captain, over before it had begun.

Still, as Jones returned to Wales and the Lions headed to Johannesburg, life went on it seemed – all under the presumption that we’d seen Jones in a Lions jersey for the last time.

All the while though, the ageless lock was hellbent on defying conventional medical wisdom.

Less than three weeks after dislocating his shoulder, he was back in training and on his way to Cape Town.

The lack of a series win didn’t cap off the Lazarus-like comeback, but to captain the Lions in all three Tests so soon after a serious injury was nothing short of miraculous.

The (almost) try from the end of the earth

Spare a thought for Mark Jones this year.

After France nearly produced another ‘try from the end of the earth’ in their stunning victory over the All Blacks, Jones’ solo run in the 2008 Grand Slam match against the French was relegated to the second-best ‘nearly try’ in recent history.

The attacking flair of Romain Ntamack to run the ball back from behind his own try-line and put in motion something that, while not ending in a try, will be remembered far longer than any actual score from the match defied the context of the situation.

Having seen a comfortable lead slip away, the French were battling the tide of All Black momentum.

Ntamack’s moment of genius provided respite. More than that, it offered a turning point.

His evasive action got supporters up on their feet. His no-look pass to Melvyn Jaminet made everyone watching believe anything was possible on a rugby pitch.

In that very moment, it was impossible not to be in love with rugby.

Wales’ Six Nations turnaround – and Wayne Pivac’s curtains

Few, if any, could have seen Wales’ Six Nations triumph coming.

Much maligned through 2020, Wayne Pivac’s stock wasn’t exactly high as Ireland rolled into town.

However, by the time they left Edinburgh the following week, Pivac’s men had two wins to their name – albeit against 14 men.

Then came the England match. If any fixture in the Six Nations shocked the watching public, then it was this one.

Dan Biggar’s quick-thinking to find Josh Adams from a penalty, allowing the winger to score in the corner while the English players were huddled around the posts, did little to endear a Wales side, dubbed fortunate so far by many, to the masses.

That lucky tag hardly rubbed off when Louis Rees-Zammit appeared to knock the ball forward into the path of Liam Williams – only for play to continue and the score to be awarded.

For what it was worth, the ‘Wales can only beat 14 men’ critics – who had had quite a year in 2021 – couldn’t moan this time. In fairness, England tried their best on that front, conceding a herculean amount of penalties.

Regardless of the many, many flashpoints, the end result was a record victory over England for Wales.

Even if the dreams of a Grand Slam were ended in heartbreaking fashion in Paris, a Six Nations title would be confirmed after France’s defeat to Scotland, leading us to another shocking sight – Pivac’s curtains.

In his defence, he’d later reveal that the curtains visible as he spoke to the BBC directly after being crowned champions were not of his own choosing, but rather a set that came with the house he’s renting.

Rugby’s growing brain injury crisis

Even if the harrowing first-hand stories of former players with early onset dementia and the subsequent legal action against governing bodies actually broke in the latter part of 2020, it’s only grown in relevance through the last 12 months.

More have stepped forward as the clouds continue to gather over the sport.

It’s an issue that isn’t going to go away anytime soon – nor should it.

Each individual case is a shocking one. The hope is that 2022 brings more support for those dealing with these harsh realities.

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