All Blacks justify world champs tag
New Zealand moved smoothly from winning the World Cup on home soil to dominate 2012 despite a blip in their final match against England.
New Zealand moved smoothly from winning the World Cup on home soil to dominate 2012 despite a blip in their final match against England that will give the rest of the rugby world a glimmer of hope.
Led magnificently by indefatigable captain Richie McCaw, who is now to take a sabbatical to recharge his batteries, the All Blacks won the newly-launched Rugby Championship that included Australia, South African and newcomers Argentina.
The side went undefeated, with their final match against Australia an 18-18 draw. The performances of flyhalf Dan Carter ensured he was named the International Rugby Board player of the year for a second time (after 2005).
The Championship's inclusion of Argentina was a particular success, and the Pumas' exposure to that level of rugby can only bode well for the sport in South America as a whole.
The All Blacks moved on from their three-Test summer series victory over Ireland and their successful Championship to claim three straightforward wins over Scotland, Italy and Wales in their year-end Tests.
But they finally came acropper in their final match of the calendar year, England ending the world champions' 20-Test winning sequence with a famous 38-21 victory at Twickenham - it was also the Kiwis' first loss on their end-of-year northern tour in a decade.
"All the boys will take a wee while to get over it but they will come back next year and this (defeat) will remind them what it's all about," said skipper McCaw.
"If there's a positive out of it, that's probably not a bad thing to have next year."
Another team to deliver on their World Cup promise, at least until March, were Wales, who produced a third Six Nations Grand Slam in eight years.
The Welsh team saw off France 16-9 in their final match of a generally poor championship to add to victories over Ireland (23-21), Scotland (27-13), England (19-12) and Italy (24-3).
But that success did not last long after a losing three-Test series in Australia in June followed by losses in November to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and again the Wallabies.
The string of seven successive defeats meant Wales fell out of the top eight in the IRB rankings and were drawn alongside England and Australia for the 2015 World Cup in England.
This means one of the sport's traditional powers will be knocked out before the quarterfinals, with only the top two teams from each of the four pools going through to the knockout stages.