Polling opens for The Offside Line’s 2023 Game Of The Year vote

Read our 12 nominations and then vote for your favourite game of the last 12 months

Was Scotland's Women's Six Nations win over Italy the game of 2023? Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Was Scotland's Women's Six Nations win over Italy the game of 2023? Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE nominations have been collected and collated, and now it is time to have your say. Which of the 12 games listed below do you think should be named The Offside Line’s Game of the Year for 2023?

Email tolgameoftheyear@gmail.com to vote. List your three favourite games, making it clear which is first, second and third choice. Polling will close at noon on 31st December, and we will announce the winner in our end-of-year awards feature when it is published that evening.


GAME 1: 4th February – Men’s Six Nations –

England 23 Scotland 29

Nominated by: Mark Palmer, Scottish rugby correspondent for The Times and The Sunday Times

HAVING been one of only a handful of Scots in the stadium when the great Twickenham curse was lifted at the height of Covid restrictions in early 2021, I returned there back in February desperate to be able to share a special experience with many others this time.

What a treat we all were served. One of the great Calcutta Cup matches saw huge momentum swings, courageous defence, ridiculous mistakes and some of the finest scores to ever grace the fixture.

Duhan van der Merwe’s sensational solo effort ended up winning World Rugby’s Try of the Year award – you can still see him there, skittling defenders apparently in just as much disbelief as those of us up in the stands attempting to feign neutrality.

It was the wing’s second, much later try which sealed the day for Scotland, though, at the end of a contest to which both sides gave plenty but that the visitors thoroughly deserved to win.

Van der Merwe and the backline as a whole took most of the plaudits, but in truth this was a fine team performance from Gregor Townsend’s men, Jamie Ritchie sealing it by claiming a typically well-judged turnover penalty.


GAME 2: 10th February – U20s Men’s Six Nations –

Scotland U20s 18 Wales U20s 17

Nominated by: David Barnes, The Offside Line editor

It has been a harrowing few years for the age-grade side and they were on a 15-match losing streak coming into this game. In truth, it wasn’t a classic contest in diabolical conditions at Scotstoun, but the young Scots played with more control and discipline than their opponents to get themselves over the line.

This didn’t prove to be a turning point for Kenny Murray’s side, who suffered heavy defeats in their three remaining matches of the championship – including a 7–82 home walloping by Ireland – but it was an invaluable morale-boost to a group of players who have been badly let down by the system, providing reassurance that Scotland can be competitive at this level …  if Murrayfield can get its act together to provide better playing and development opportunities ahead of throwing our best youngsters in at the deep-end.



GAME 3: 11th February – Men’s Six Nations –

Scotland 35 Wales 7 

Nominated by: Rob Robertson, rugby correspondent for The Scottish Daily Mail

SCOTLAND’S biggest ever win over Wales dedicated to the memory of the legendary Doddie Weir. A Finn Russell master class to savour and Wales coach Warren Gatland – not a man who ever favoured Scots when it came to picking his Lions squads – having a face as long as Leith Walk at the final whistle.

What was not to like in what was a near perfect Scotland performance?

Coming after the win over England at Twickenham, this was the first time Scotland had won their opening two Six Nations matches so there was a real belief among the fans that their team could challenge for the title. We all know that didn’t happen but that shouldn’t stop us savouring the special moment of beating Wales so easily which allowed the fans a fleeting moment when they dared to dream.

To add to the sense of occasion this was the first Scotland game at Murrayfield since the death from MND of the legendary Doddie Weir at the age of just 52. When Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie received the Doddie Weir Cup for beating Wales from Doddie’s widow Kathy, it was a poignant moment to round off a very special day.


GAME 4: 11th March – Men’s Premiership play-off final –

Hawick 21 Currie Chieftains 18

Nominated by: Colin Renton, TOL stalwart

CLUB rugby has its detractors, but the fiercely contested Premiership final between Hawick and Currie Chieftains at Mansfield Park must surely have converted some of the doubters.

Two enterprising sides served up a contest of remarkable intensity, heaps of skill and a dramatic finale that kept the sizeable crowd engrossed.

Chieftains led 11-8 at half time through an Iain Sim try and two Jamie Forbes penalties, with Fraser Renwick touching down for the hosts and Kirk Ford booting a penalty.

Ford edged Hawick into the lead with two more kicks, but the Greens seemed set to struggle when Dalton Redpath received a second yellow card and Kyle Brunton was also sent to the sin bin.

Chieftains capitalised with a converted Kody McGovern try. However, a relentless finish by Hawick yielded a dramatic touchdown in the corner for Ronan McKean deep into injury time, and Ford’s conversion added gloss to a stunning victory.

Also nominated by: Robin Purdie of Borders Rugby TV & Radio

For some, play-offs are no way to determine the outcome of a championship season. However, this game was the ultimate season-decider.

Surely the biggest crowd at a club game for many’s a year.  The regular season’s two standout teams, but with a sense that Hawick were off-the-board favourites due to home and away demolitions of the Malleny men mere weeks before.

But Currie were inspired and, while the match was not full of champagne rugby, they gave as good as they got against their nervous looking hosts.

And then the late drama. Red and yellow cards saw Hawick down to 13 men for the last four minutes, and Currie took advantage to score what looked like the clinching try. But, with the clock in the red, 13-man Hawick retrieved possession from the kick-off and scored that famous Ronan McKean try.  A fitting end to the 2022-23 (or any other) season.



GAME 5: 18th March – Men’s Six Nations –

Scotland 26 Italy 14

Nominated by: Graham Bean, rugby correspondent for The Scotsman

Scotland had a good Six Nations rather than a great one but it’s easy to forget that it could have ended on a real low note.

Italy threw the kitchen sink at them in the closing stages of a thrilling final match at Murrayfield and Gregor Townsend’s side came perilously close to losing to the Azzurri for the first time in eight years.

Having already cut Scotland’s lead from 13 points to five, the Italians were camped on the home side’s line, looking for the try that would turn a 14-19 deficit into a winning position.

Step forward hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn to score the kind of try ripped straight from the pages of the Boy’s Own Paper. With Italy lacking the composure to finish things off, Scotland were awarded a scrum and blazed up the field, with a jet-propelled Duhan van der Merwe flying to halfway before playing inside to Kinghorn to finish off a stunning score for a memorable treble – the second of his Test career against Italy.

It was a great Murrayfield moment and it secured third place for Scotland, equalling their highest ever finish in the championship since it was expanded in 2000.

For Kinghorn, it was a brilliant showcase of his skill and athleticism and eight months later he landed a dream move to Toulouse.


GAME 6: 25th March – United Rugby Championship –

Munster 26 Glasgow Warriors 38

Nominated by: Iain Hay, TOL stalwart

YOU won’t find many with a bad word to say about Danny Wilson’s character, but his spell as Warriors’ head coach was a disaster. A tragedy, epilogued with the hivviest-riddiest inducing of defeats.

Franco Smith’s tenure did not start too auspiciously either but, after another Leinster chastening, shoots of progress began to sprout.

An 1872 double preceded a win over South African giants, Stormers, kick-starting a good run of form, but there was no way they were beating Munster, at the business-end of the season, in Thomond Park, with a dangling carrot of home advantage in the play-offs also there: NO way, surely?

Glasgow were sensational. An early Fraser Brown try didn’t kick the hosts into gear, instead spurring the Warriors, with the try bonus-point bagged by half-time, then a Diego Miotti drop-kick made it 31-0 at the start of the second half … at Thomond Park!

Munster threatened a revival with a quick-fire double, Glasgow scored again, and although letting their guard down in the final ten minutes, they still took all five-points, to Munster’s one-try bonus-point.

Among the scorers were Stafford McDowall and Sione Vailanu, totems of Glasgow’s 2022-23 resurgence. The former started the season closer to the exit door than Wilson’s first-XV, the latter, at a career crossroads.


GAME 7: 15th April – National League Division Two –

Glasgow Accies 53 Falkirk 15

Nominated by: Max Hutcheon on behalf of Glasgow Accies

Three teams – Falkirk, Glasgow Accies and Newton Stewart – had been neck and neck in the title race all season, which ultimately led to this high-pressure showdown at New Anniesland in mid-April, when three very distinct outcomes were on the cards:

  • If Falkirk win at all, they go up.
  • If Glasgow Accies win by less than 38, Newton Stewart go up
  • If Glasgow Accies win by 38 or more, they go up.

Accies entered the playing arena to a raucous reception, with blue flare smoke swirling to welcome the home side. Meanwhile, the visitors from Falkirk had brought an impressive away contingent setting up a fantastic atmosphere.

What followed was a masterclass from Glasgow Accies as they raced into a commanding lead, with tries from Declan Papadakis, Jack McCready, captain Ross Cowan (three), Colin Taylor and James Evans, plus two conversions from Taylor and one from Fin Neilson, taking them to 41-15 – but with only two minutes to go it looked for all the world like that 28 point winning margin was going to be beyond the home side.

But then came one of the greatest grandstand finished in Scottish club rugby history. Accies launched another assault on the Falkirk line. Papadakis was held up but Falkirk’s drop-out was sliced and went straight out. Scrum-five toAccies. A front-row that had played every minute piled on the pressure and drove a beleaguered Falkirk pack back over their own line to get a penalty try and moved to just five points shy of that elusive 38-point margin.

“What followed was like something out of a fairytale,” recounted Finn Tait in his TOL match report. “McCready wriggled free from kick-off with a shimmy and shake, then turned on the burners and escaped down the touchline. The stand was bouncing, but the winger still had it all to do with a man to beat, however his dummy and go was enough to fool the replacement full-back. He galloped in, fists pumping, and the 1000-strong crowd going wild. Coaches were on the field and beers were flying everywhere in celebration of a famous Accies win and the title secured.”



GAME 8: 22nd April – Women’s Six Nations –

Scotland 29 Italy 21

Nominated by: Stuart Bathgate, the godfather of Scottish rugby journalists

SCOTLAND had lost their last 12 games in all competitions going into this penultimate round of the Championship. And, after being beaten 55-0 by France just six days earlier, their morale cannot have been sky high as they faced up to Italy.

But their problem was not so much the all-but-inevitable defeats by the likes of the French and English, it was losing close matches that they could and should have won.

So when two tries in three minutes in the second half of this game took the Italians from 24-7 down to 24-21, the momentum was clearly against Rachel Malcolm’s team in a game that had been in their control. This time, though, they refused to succumb to self-doubt, and fought back to ensure victory, scoring again through Lana Skeldon before holding off some late pressure.

“The overwhelming emotion is relief at the moment,” Malcolm, the captain, said afterwards. “If I’m honest, this last year has been hell in many ways for our group. “That was one of the most complete performances we have had as a squad. The belief was there and now we have got this win we can push on and keep going.”

They did exactly that, beating Ireland in the final round a week later then going on to win the WXV2 tournament in South Africa. As the year ends they have equalled their best-ever run of six consecutive victories. Next stop Wales on 23 March.

Also nominate by: Eleanor S of @scotwomenrugby

NOT only was it a really good game, it meant so much too. After qualifying for the RWC with victory over Colombia, Scotland went on an agonising run of 12 defeats, and although heavy defeats by England, France and the Black Ferns are to be expected, the ones against the teams around us were so close. Many were last ditch defeats and all of these except the third defeat to Wales were by less than a score (and even that was 27-22 with less than three minutes to go). The team was playing well but they just couldn’t seem to win.

Italy have a style of rugby that Scotland had really struggled with in the previous years and they were, and remain, ranked higher than Scotland so this was going to be a tricky game. And when Italy started to come back into the game and got within three points in the final quarter, in the crowd we were all trying not to worry that this was going to be another heartbreaking late loss. The red card to Sara Seye probably helped a little but then it partly came because Scotland had put Italy back on the back foot.

The forwards in particular were immense – they scored all the tries and Jade Konkel won player-of-the-match from an unfamiliar berth in the second-row. But every player toughed it out and believed in themself and the team despite the run of results they were on.

And the impact is still being felt, with that monkey off their back, and confidence boosted, it’s been a run of six wins and a WXV2 trophy as well.


GAME 9: 14th October – World Cup Quarter-Final –

Ireland 24 New Zealand 28

Nominate by: Calum Crowe, Sports Writer for The Scottish Daily Mail

THIS was worthy of being the World Cup Final, such was the quality and drama as both teams fought to a thrilling finale in Paris.

The final few minutes were just ludicrous. Ireland went through 37 phases at the very end of the game, pounding away, only for the All Blacks to hold on and win 28-24.

It brought the curtain down on Johnny Sexton’s career. The fact he was part of one of the all-time classic World Cup contests will have been of little consolation to the Ireland fly-half as he walked off into retirement.



GAME 10: 10th November – Super Series Championship Semi-Final –

Heriot’s 21 Stirling Wolves 26

Nominated by: Alan Lorimer, the doyen of Scottish rugby journalists

HERIOT’S came into this semi-final having set the pace in the Super Series and having shown that their flamboyant style was a winning formula, most memorably illustrated when they put 64 points past Watsonians at Myreside in the shock scoreline of the season.

Moreover, Heriot’s had scored a shed load of points against Stirling in the league and by anyone’s book were massive favourites to cruise into the final and then win outright.

But such thoughts were not in the minds of Stirling Wolves. The Bridgehaugh side bucked expectations by reducing Heriot’s to mere mortals with an effective game-plan based on dynamic defence and a brand of rugby that was smarter than the Goldenacre side.

It was a night when Stirling outdid Heriot’s at their kicking game with better return shots, when the Wolves deployed fresh innovative moves and when, overall, the Wolves’ coaches, in the words of their experienced head coach, Eddie Pollock: “Got it spot-on”, adding: “The players bought into everything the coaches wanted them to do”.

Stirling, inspired by all-action displays from flanker Connor Gordon and back-row cohort Ed Hasdell, hooker Gregor Hiddleston amongst the forwards and Ben Afshar, Craig Jackson and Ryan Southern behind the scrum, had raised their game to a level they probably had not imagined was possible and in the end that gave them victory by 26-21.

Sport had once more produced an upset and Stirling, who went on to win the final after defeating Ayr, were the beneficiaries. And it was, too,  a reminder that, as in the world of finance, past results are not a reliable guide to future performance.


GAME 11: 18th November – Super Series Championship Final –

Ayrshire Bulls 19 Stirling Wolves 29

Nominated by: Lewis Stuart, TOL stalwart

What makes a match into the game of the season? Drama, obviously. A decent quality of rugby. But, surely one of the biggest consideration has to be how shocking was the result? For that, nothing this year can trump Stirling Wolves beating Ayrshire Bulls in the Super Series Championship Final.

Stirling had finished bottom last year and scraped into the play-offs after losing heavily at home to both Heriot’s and the Bulls. It had been a huge shock that the Wolves had beaten table-toppers Heriot’s to reach showpiece.

Surely the final itself was a foregone conclusion? If so, nobody told Eddie Pollock and his players who came out firing and had put the result to bed by half-time, opening up a 10 point lead and seeing off a second-half fightback to win 29-19. You can’t beat it for a demonstration of how sport at its best is utterly unpredictable.


GAME 12: 16th December – Women’s Premiership Final –

Watsonians 19 Stirling County 26

Nominated by: Gary Heatly, TOL stalwart

Stirling County battled back from 19-0 down to win their second women’s Premiership final in a row earlier they month

At Myreside, Watsonians used home comforts – and the wind – to build up a 19-0 advantage after 20 minutes thanks to tries from Shannon Macey, Molly Poolman and Lucy Winter scoring tries and Briar McNamara converting two.

A converted try from teenager Ceitidh Ainsworth, later named player-of-the-match, got County on the board after 30 minutes and it was 19-7 at half-time.

The second period was well controlled by Stirling and they scored three further tries to take the glory.

Chloe Brown got the first of them and then, with 11 minutes to go, Ainsworth went over. Both were converted and it was 21-19 before a final five-pointers came through Fi Keys.

This was a great advert for Scottish women’s rugby and from December 30th and into early 2024 we will see a number of players from both sides in the Celtic Challenge event.

 

 

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Aberdeen Select v Aberdeen Exiles: Boxing Day truce is not enough

About David Barnes 3821 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

21 Comments

  1. Game 7 – For the intensity, excellent skills and rugby from both sides and a truly exciting finish

  2. Game 7 . To score from inside your 22 in the last few minutes to gain promotion and reach the 38 point difference needed against a team that was still in with a chance of promotion was totally unbelievable . The best game I have ever seen

  3. Game 4 without a doubt. I was gutted to be in Tenerife on holiday so had to watch it on the live stream. Nobody was in any doubt who I was supporting in the hotel and Ronan McKean’s try at the end was pure class

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  4. Has to be Hawick V Currie No other Club would have won that game with 13 men great game with great crowd numbers from the best 2 clubs in the league

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  5. How can it be anything other than game 7, needing to win by 38 points against a team that was also fighting for promotion This is game of the decade

  6. Game 4.Hawick v Currie. For ground roots enthusiasts this club game had everything – big crowd, lots of atmosphere, skill, enthusiasm, determination and most of all a will to win.

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