There can be no doubt that England end 2012 in a far better position than they begun it and on that basis alone Stuart Lancaster can claim to have made a good fist of rugby’s top job.
On a national basis there have been authentic signs that under the likeable Lancaster England may once again produce a Test squad worthy of the richest inheritance on the planet.
Domestically the chances of Leicester, Harlequins or Saracens breaking the Franco-Irish duopoly in the Heineken Cup don’t seem much better but on a regional basis Worcester Warriors look as though they are about to take another baby-step. One that might just take them to the mythical Land of the Next Level.
Closer to home Moseley are still top dogs in the Second City but even though they have undergone massive change, they are still in the same place. Different jigsaw pieces insist on creating an identical picture.
And further down the pyramid Birmingham & Solihull’s drastic recalibration continues, while Bromsgrove and Dudley Kingswinford prove what can be done with an old-fashioned, organically grown rugby club.
Stourbridge? Well they remain a law unto themselves and the markedly contrasting fortunes following relegation should have one or two of their players asking questions of their early year form.
So here is my assessment of the last 12 months in the oval world:
The national rugby press has at least reclaimed its pants after Lancaster spent the first half of 2012 charming them off.
The Red Rose head coach doesn’t turn his audience giddy in quite the way he used to and make no bones about it, he needed that outstanding victory over the All Blacks earlier this month.
Yet it is difficult to detect anything other than progress under the former Leeds coach, not seismic, plate-shifting progress, but progress nonetheless.
Since Lancaster’s first match in charge at Murrayfield in February, England have won six of their twelve matches, drawn one and lost five - three to South Africa.
They have triumphed in Edinburgh and Paris, drawn in Port Elizabeth and unseated the runaway New Zealanders in front of a disbelieving but no-less grateful Twickenham.
One match too far it might have been for the world champions but England made it so.
Lancaster can also claim that the outline of a very good XV is starting to develop. Alex Goode, Alex Corbisiero, Tom Youngs, Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury and Chris Robshaw have either emerged or established themselves as first rate internationals.
Added to the already recognised talents of Dan Cole, Chris Ashton and Tom Wood new England are more worthy of their patriots than any previous vintage in the last five years.
Question marks remain, such as the right half-back and centre combinations but steadily, shirt-by-shirt, Lancaster and his coaching staff are putting together a very decent side, one that should win the Six Nations in 2013.
Certainly if they can build on the highlights of 2012, such as the dominant scrummaging performance that ran Ireland out of Twickenham in March. Such as the oppressive defensive display that suffocated the All Blacks into so many errors a few weeks ago.
People can say what they like about the limitations of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi, both as players and a partnership, but they looked world beaters on December 1 basically because their team backed them up. And that might truly be the advent of something special.
It is a similar picture at Sixways where for once their players’ talk of graduating into mid-table seems more based on deed than empty words.
Nothing has been decided yet but given the fact they started the year favourites for a relegation battle with Newcastle, they end it free from such concerns. Richard Hill and the management team above and around him have to be applauded for that.
Warriors are still a long way from the expansive, free-running, Heineken Cup qualifying squad everyone craves but like England bit by bit, they are evolving.
They are not as defensive as they were 12 months ago, after waiting four years for a Premiership try bonus, two came along in consecutive weeks and with David Lemi and Josh Matavesi there is something a little more mercurial to their back-line.
Indeed Matavesi and Semisi Taulava have been intriguing recruits, the fears of defensive frailty on one hand and a lack of conditioning on the other have been dismissed by their other manifold qualities.
But the most interesting development, aside from the fact Andy Goode has started to play in contract year, is the improved depth to Hill’s squad.
In their last league match, at Harlequins, Warriors had Aleki Lutui, Dean Schofield and Euan Murray on their bench, in the corresponding fixture last season it was Lutui, Oliver Tomaszczyk and Ben Gulliver. Progress.
Which is not to say everything is rosy, Mathieu Rourre’s role needs clarification and an over-arching attacking vision probably requires a permanent appointment. But most Warriors supporters will feel the last 12 months have been good, if not great.
Unfortunately for those at Billesley Common, life at Moseley still means bumping along near the bottom of the Championship.
While rumours abound about an increased playing budget for next season and the development of the hitherto notional grandstand, they aren’t worth anything yet.
Moseley have played 23 league matches this year and won seven, with one draw and just two try bonuses. There have been 15 defeats. If the worm is turning would it very much mind doing so a tad more quickly?
Considering the fact four of those victories were condensed into a single rollicking five-week period during the relegation play-offs, the rest of the year has been an uphill struggle.
Not helped by the fact Kevin Maggs was compelled to change two-third of his squad in the summer. There must have been times in the last few months when he’d have loved to call on Messrs Ellery, Maltman, Reay, Pennycook and Lyons.
That bunch put a few radiant-beams on faces in April when they steamrollered their way to second tier safety right over London Scottish and jeopardised the Exiles’ in the process.
And his younger models, spirited and assiduous as they are, have produced a couple of magical moments themselves such as the Glyn Hughes-inspired pick-pocketing of Bristol.
How Maggs and outstanding forwards coach Dave Hilton must have loved putting that over their home-town club.
Hopefully the arrival of former Wales international Ben Evans will ensure such moments aren’t so rare in 2013. At least Craig Voisey, who broke his arm twice in six months, knows next year can’t be any more cruel than last.
There were times during the first half of the year when Neil Mitchell could barely scrape a Stourbridge side together as they slipped out of National One as frustrating under-achievers.
In the last few weeks, with Stour already certain of an immediate return to level three, their director of rugby could have put two teams out. Proof, if ever any were needed, of the restorative qualities of winning.
Bees have once again been forced to reinvent the wheel with fewer pieces and though they are making a decent go of it there are no such guarantees of success at Portway just yet.
Bromsgrove and Dudley Kingswinford have played their part in making National Two North an intriguing division and while both are writing interesting narratives of their own, none are as compelling as all-conquering Stour’s. But then they owe their supporters.
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