The Sports History Chronicle British Sports Team of the Year 2016 – Saracens Rugby Union Team

Some of the teams I considered were:

Laura Daniels and Jess Sims – world bowls pairs champions.
England Triples bowls team – world champions.  For both these teams I have to consider the performance truly exceptional in order for them to be close to winning.  This means a perfect tournament.  Both came close but both lost one match in their qualifying groups.
Cavendish and Wiggins – world Madison champions.  For all the success of the British cycling team in the Olympics it has to be remembered that at the world championships earlier in the year the only British “team” to win a gold was Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins in the Madison.  The lack of success of other British teams at those championships is why I haven’t any Olympic gold-winning cycling teams on my shortlist.  The Madison wasn’t in the Games so the British pair have to be considered the best in the world in 2016.  This was one race however and they didn’t do enough as a team elsewhere to be nominated.

In para-cycling the team of Louis Rolfe, Jon-Allan Butterworth and Jody Cundy won gold medals at both the world championships and Paralympics in the Team Sprint C1-5 category.  In both competitions they set world records and that puts them in my top three.
GB Women’s Hockey Team – Olympic Champions.  The women were the great team success story of the Olympics taking the gold in a penalty shoot-out against world number one ranked team the Netherlands.  The fact that despite this defeat the Dutch are still well clear at the top of the world rankings tells you that the British success was a surprise.  The British were a little fortunate to win the final and in the other big tournament of the year, the Champions Trophy, on home ground the British were only fifth.  It was a great run in Rio but to win my award you have to be the best over the year.

The rowing teams that did so well in Rio make a good case to be in my top three teams.  Two of them, the Men’s Coxless Fours Rowing Team which won Olympic gold, and the invincible pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning were undefeated in the year to extend their unbeaten record together to 39 races since their last defeat in 2011.  However, the Four missed a world cup race and the pair missed two which means that their domination wasn’t as complete as in some previous years.  The Olympic gold winning eight lost the third world cup race and so can’t be in the top three.

In Paralympic rowing Lauren Rowles and Laurence Whitley won gold in the mixed double sculls and set a world record in the heats.

The England Rugby Union team were Grand Slam winners and unbeaten in 2016 having won every match on a tour of Australia and then all their Autumn internationals.  This has to put them in very serious contention but there is one very large elephant in the room, an All-Black elephant.  The New Zealand All-Blacks are considered to be the best team in the world and one of the best of all-time.  They lost one match to Ireland but avenged that.  However, the disappointment is that they didn’t play England in 2016.  This means that we can’t accurately assess which of these two fine teams is the better.
Staying with the same sport the Saracens rugby union team had a magnificent season in which they were European champions and English league winners.  They came top of the table in the domestic league, losing four matches, although some of these were when players were on international duty.  The team then won the Championship by winning the play-off series for the top teams in the league.  In the European Cup they won all nine matches they played culminating in a clear win in the final to become the first English team for twelve years to win the trophy and the Premiership, and the first since 2001 to do the Treble.
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark were the 470 class Olympic sailing champions.  They also had two wins in other world cup regattas for a fine season.  However, the world championships were a big disappointment as they only came 15th.
Chris Mears and Jack Laugher won Olympic diving gold in the synchronised springboard event.  They had a good, consistent season coming in the top four or five in most events but it was a bit of a surprise when they won the gold.  Full credit to them for rising to the occasion.

You may be surprised to find no mention Leicester City in my nominations.  Leicester’s league title was a great story but my choices don’t take that into account.  My judgement is made purely in terms of what was achieved and not how much improvement was made.

My top three British teams of 2016 are:

Third – the England rugby team

Second – Louis Rolfe, Jon-Allan Butterworth and Jody Cundy Paralympic cycling Team Sprint.

First – Saracens Rugby Union Team.

Embed from Getty Images

Saracens with the European Champions Cup

Previous Winners

2015 Great Britain Davis Cup Tennis Team   Runners-up: Helen Glover and Heather Stanning (Rowing), the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay swimming team

2014 Helen Glover and Heather Stanning (Rowing):  Runners-up England women’s rugby union team, GB women 4×100 relay team (athletics)

2013  Great Britain Women’s Cycling Team Pursuit Squad world champions and world record setters again: Runners-Up: Sprinter Sacre (Horse Racing), GB Men’s Squash Team

2012 Frankel (Horse Racing) – winner of all five races to finish his career unbeaten and achieved the highest rating in history. Runners-Up: Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins (Rowing), Women’s team pursuit cycling, England women’s rugby union team, Paul Foster and Alex Marshall (Bowls)


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