It being a Lions year in 2017, pretty much everything in European rugby in the first half of it was seen, rightly or not, as an extended tour trial.
England won another Six Nations, while the All Blacks collected their now habitual Rugby Championship. The Lions series arguably swung on the first sending-off of an All Black for 49 years and seven months, as large parts of the rugby media simultaneously rediscovered Sonny Bill Williams' rugby league heritage, largely unmentioned when he was giving his medal away to a young spectator after the 2015 World Cup final.
But there was plenty else going on as well, particularly in the second and lower tiers of the game, providing that sometimes unlikely feats turn up as we look at 2017 in international rugby union By The Number.
0 tries scored in 95 Tests to the end of 2017 by All Black prop Owen Franks, the longest non-scoring career in history.
0 wins and seven defeats for Samoa, the worst year in their history, starting with a brutal 78-0 loss to New Zealand, the blood relative and near neighbour who has only ever managed one visit, and ending with the incomparably satirical 'Old Mutual Wealth' Test at Twickenham, where the skint islanders went down 48-14 to the world's richest rugby nation.
1 defeat suffered by England in 2017, away to Ireland in the Six Nations, fewest by any of the 10 Tier 1 nations. Their winning percentage of 90 percent also topped the first tier for the second year running, while New Zealand's success rate of 82.14 percent was their worst since 2009.
1 drop goal was the most scored by any player during 2017 as the scoring technique, which until 1948 counted for more points than any other, continued to go the way of the goal from the mark and the minor. There were 12 in all the matches recorded by StatsGuru, fewer than Jonny Wilkinson landed by himself in 2003. Of the six in matches played by Tier 1 nations, four involved Argentina -- two for, two against -- and the others were on the middle weekend of the Six Nations, with Jonny Sexton on the mark for Ireland against France and Tommaso Allan turning England's bemusement at Italy's first-half breakdown tactics into points at Twickenham.
3 yellow cards and one red, collected in only seven matches, made Chilean prop Claudio Zamorano Bravo the year's outstanding miscreant. Sixteen players received two yellows, including Australian captain Michael Hooper, whose sin-binning at Twickenham in November was his eighth, an all-time career record which he doubtless relishes as much as the scoreline that day.
5.93 points is the average winning margin in 14 matches to the end of 2017 between Belgium and Portugal, neither ever winning by more than 13 points. Belgium's 29-18 win this year, their first since 1994 and third in all [Portugal have won nine], was their largest. Without being categoric, it is hard to imagine that any other fixture played with any regularity has been quite as consistently close.
8 defeats suffered by Italian centre Tommaso Benvenuti were far from the most in 2017. Eleven players, three of his own teammates plus eight Argentinians, lost 11 times, but all also played in at least one victory. Benvenuti went 0-8 and last played in a win when Italy beat South Africa in autumn 2016.
11 wins for Uruguayan centre Andres Vilaseca Hontou placed him among 10 players -- three All Blacks and seven Teros -- to achieve that mark in 2017, but he was the only one not to play in a loss, going 11-0.
12 tries in 10 matches by Israel Folau made the Australian multi-code convert the leading scorer of 2017, pursued by All Black shooting star Rieko Ioane, who crossed 10 times in 11 matches. Ireland's Keith Earls was the leading European with seven from eight matches.
13 appearances from the bench in 2017 by All Black prop Wyatt Crockett equalled the record set last year by Argentinian hooker Julian Montoya. The Puma was only just behind Crockett this year with 12 and, a conspicuous victim of the modern crop of hooker-captains, has won 25 caps from the bench since his last start, against South Africa in November 2015.
14 starts by Hooper made him the busiest player of 2017 although appearances from the bench enabled Wallaby teammates Sekope Kepu, Reece Hodge and Tatufu Polata-Nau and All Black Codie Taylor to win as many caps during the year. All 59 players who won 12 or more caps are from the Southern Hemisphere. The busiest Europeans, making 11 starts, were French stalwart Louis Picamoles, Lions Elliot Daly and Alun Wyn-Jones and the Italian duo of Marco Fuser and Andrea Lovotti.
15.73 points conceded per match -- 173 in 11 Tests -- made Ireland the stingiest Tier 1 defence followed by England (16.80) and New Zealand (17.79). Italy (33.91) figure at the less desirable end of this table.
18 years and 290 days was the age of Portuguese prop Nuno Mascarenhas when he played against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, making him the youngest international player of 2017. He attracted slightly less attention than back-rower Tom Curry, who became the first 18 year old to play for England since Mathew Tait in 2005 and the youngest since Jonny Wilkinson in 1997, when he made his debut against Argentina in San Juan five days before his 19th birthday.
38 points were the most scored by a losing side in 2017, a distinction shared by Samoa, who went down 44-38 to Scotland in the madcap epic at Murrayfield and Romania, whose 41-38 FIRA loss in Offenbach was their first defeat by Germany since 1938.
38 years and 75 days was the age at which magnificently-named Chilean lock Nelson Umaga Calderon Hernandez became not only the oldest international player, but the oldest debutant of 2017 when he made his Chile bow against an Argentinian XV in Talachuano. He played again against the United States in Santiago a week later before being discarded. This made him the third oldest debutant recorded by StatsGuru, behind Arabian Gulf prop Mark Gathercole, who was 39 years and 187 days when he played against Japan in Tokyo in 2006 -- and went on until he was 43 -- and the truly remarkable naval man Frederick Gilbert, 39 years and 22 days and already a Rugby Football Union committee member when he was called up to play for England against Wales in 1923. He too won two caps, playing well in victories over Wales and Ireland before he was ruled out by injury. Hernandez shares a surname with the oldest player to appear for a Tier 1 union this year, the magnificently durable Juan Martin of Argentina who was 35 years and 104 days when the Pumas played Italy in Florence, two days older than Rory Best had been when the Irish captain played against the Argentinians a week earlier.
42.08 percent of Wales' points in 2017 [93 out of 221] came from penalties, the highest rate of reliance on punishing other teams' misdeeds in Tier 1. That France [84 out of 206, 40.78 [percent] rank second may help explain why the WRU had to put 20,000 tickets for their 2018 clash on public sale before selling out. Australia [11.70 percent] were the least penalty-dependent, followed by New Zealand [11.97 percent], Ireland [15.06 percent] and Scotland [16.14 percent].
45 wins for Scotland was the new all-time record set by durable hooker Ross Ford when the Scots beat Australia in Sydney. Ford broke the previous mark, shared by Chris Paterson and Sean Lamont, a week before he also surpassed Paterson as the most-capped Scot of all time, with 110 appearances. But another of Paterson's records, that of the most-defeated Scot, remains just out of reach following the injury which ruled Ford out of the autumn programme and threatens to do the same for the Six Nations. Factor in Scotland's improved form and increased competition for places and it might be a while before Ford, currently on 63, goes past Paterson's 65 defeats for Scotland. And one record of Paterson's seems safe, from Ford at least. Even if he were to maintain his sudden burst of scoring, breaking an eight-year drought with three tries in his last three matches he would take another 157 appearances to catch Paterson's 809 points.
46 tries make All Black wing Julian Savea the highest active try-scorer in international rugby, comfortably ahead of Folau, Wales' George North and Romanian Catalin Fercu, all on 32. But he added only one in 2017, played in only two Tests and looks suspiciously like the latest victim of the Sargasso Sea syndrome afflicting All Blacks who reach 40 tries. Five Kiwis -- Jeff Wilson (44), Joe Rokocoko (46), Christian Cullen (46), Savea (46) and Doug Howlett (49) -- are among the 10 highest scorers from Tier 1 nations. All have a higher tries-per-match rate than the other five [Bryan Habana 67, David Campese 64, Shane Williams 60, Rory Underwood 50, Brian O'Driscoll 47]. But where the others had international careers of 11 years or more and at least 90 Tests, none of the All Blacks played more than Rokocoko's 68 matches or has lasted more than eight years. Savea, still only 27, may of course break this pattern, go through the 50-try barrier and wind up somewhere ahead of Habana and Japan's Daisuke Ohata [69 tries]. But anyone who saw Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo devastating Wales in late November will recognise the main element in Sargasso Sea Syndrome, that extraordinary production line of attacking talent which means that even the most lethal All Blacks have a comparatively short time before somebody equally dangerous, and with youth on their side, emerges to challenge and ultimately displace them.
80 million pounds extra revenue France's successful 2023 Rugby World Cup bid promised to generate from the tournament than their competitors from Ireland and South Africa.
94 career wins for All Black captain Kieran Read, 32, make him the active leader and fifth all-time behind four other 2015 World Cup winners led by Richie McCaw (131). While he has a shot at McCaw's mark, the greater threats are probably teammates Sam Whitelock, 29, who has already played in 85 wins and, given both the durability and scope for winning caps as replacements of front-rowers, Owen Franks, who has 80 wins at the age of 30.
94.36 percent is Wyatt Crockett's career winning percentage at the end of 2017, pretty good by any standards other than his own. Playing in the All Blacks loss and draw against the Lions and the their defeat by Australia ended a run of 49 consecutive undefeated Test appearances knocked more than three percent off his record and enabled scrum-half, and frequent All Black bench-mate, Tawera Kerr-Barlow [96.29 percent] to overtake him as the all-time leader among players with 20 caps or more. Crockett retains his lead among those with more than 50 caps and, one suspects in perpetuity, as the player with the most Wild West name
95 defeats in international rugby union is the all-time career record for which the incomparable Sergio Parisse has long been destined, his tie with Italian compadre Martin Castrogiovanni (88) broken during 2017. He'll no doubt be the first to 100 during 2018, while continuing to leave little doubt that had he been born in New Zealand and Kieron Read in Italy, he would be the one closing in on 100 wins.
100 points, the highest in a single match in 2017, were scored by Kenya against Tunisia, who managed only 10 in reply, on July 8 in Nairobi, wing Darwin Mikidza-Kinyangi scoring 36 points including a hat trick. Tunisia also lost 78-17 to Uganda, leaving one to wonder what has happened to a country which in 2003 came desperately close to qualifying for the World Cup, losing out to Namibia on the tries scored tie-breaker after their home and away playoff ended 43-43 on aggregate.
168 points made All Black Beauden Barrett the year's highest scorer, no great surprise given that he is chief kicker for the team that scored most points (501) and tries (67) and that he also scores more tries (6) than most kickers. Mikidza-Kinyangi claimed 145 points including seven tries for Kenya while Owen Farrell was the leading scorer in Europe with 104.
335 pounds [or 152kg] -- The official playing weight of France prop Uini Atonio, according to his club La Rochelle. That makes him the heaviest active international player, although his crown could soon be taken by Toulon and France Under-20 prop Walid Maamry, who tips the scales at a mammoth 353 pounds!
696 points make Leigh Halfpenny the highest active scorer among Tier 1 nations, although it seems a matter of time before Farrell, whose 644 points have been scored in six years and is still only 26, overhauls him as he heads inexorably for four figures.
854 points make Romania's Florin Vlaicu not only the highest active scorer, but the all-time record holder from a Tier 2 nation. His 86 points in 2017 broke the tie for both titles with Georgia's Merab Kvirikashvili, who scored 67 as the duo continued their remarkable lock-step pursuit of just about every Tier 2 career mark. Both overtook Vasco Uva of Portugal's previous Tier 2 record of 101 caps, Kvirikashvili ending 2017 with 108 to Vlaicu's 106, and Georgian centre David Kacharava in third place on 104. Each has also played in 67 winning teams, making them joint third on the all-time Tier 2 list immediately behind Kacharava and Romania's Fercu who are tied on 68. Comparative youth favours Vlaicu, who is 31 while Kvirashvili turned 34 on Dec. 27, as the likelier long-term winner but as long as this one runs it'll fascinate.
2,019 pounds, the combined weight of England's starting pack in the 2017 Six Nations. It made them the heaviest set of forwards in the competition. By contrast, their backs were the lightest, nudging the scales at 1,358 pounds.