|INTRO | REVIEW BY SPORT | GALLERY | QUIZ | VOTE | LEGENDS REMEMBERED | 2001 CALENDAR|
By BBC Sport Online's
After the relative disappointment of the 1999 World Cup, Northern Hemisphere rugby fans can feel rightly satisfied that the north-south divide may at last be starting to wane.
England's recent victories over Australia and South Africa point the way towards a brighter future for the European game and France's superb 42-33 win over New Zealand is further evidence that cracks are starting to appear in the armoury of rugby's big boys.
Add to that impressive performances by the Celtic nations in this season's European Cup and there is now realistic hope that the 2003 World Cup may see a Northern Hemisphere winner for the first time in history.
The year began with the inaugural Six Nations tournament, the first change to the format of Europe's premier rugby competition since France's inclusion in 1910.
Newcomers Italy were quickly written off but instantly threw the form book into disarray by notching up a shock 34-20 victory over Scotland in Rome.
England surged into top gear and sealed their position as favourites with a hard-fought 15-9 win over France - a team that had dismissed Wales so easily in Cardiff two weeks earlier.
Ireland, meanwhile, quickly recovered from their opening defeat to England to secure their first win in Paris for 28 years.
As it had been in 1999, however, the biggest upset came in the final game. Scotland, heading for a comprehensive wooden spoon after losses to Italy, Wales, Ireland and France, surely had no chance of preventing the England juggernaut from claiming a richly deserved Grand Slam?
No rugby fan in Britain gave them any chance of success. But yet again the tournament provided one of the games of the year, as Scotland taught England another lesson in complacency.
Still, the competition was England's to celebrate, even if they failed to collect the trophy in front of a delighted Murrayfield crowd.
There was more success for the red rose in Europe as Northampton became only the second English club to claim the title, after Bath in 1998.
The Saints were pushed all the way in the semi-finals by Llanelli and ultimately won out to take the crown 9-8 against Munster in an edgy performance at Twickenham.
The Scarlets were rightly disappointed with their performance, but made up for their loss by defeating arch-rivals Swansea in the WRU Challenge Cup.
Cardiff had earlier wrapped up the inaugural Welsh/Scottish league with ease, while in England, Leicester Tigers dominated the English Premiership with commanding performances throughout the season.
If rugby in Europe proved beyond all doubt the game was alive and well, the Southern Hemisphere provided fans with the game of the year.
Sydney's Olympic Stadium was the venue for a remarkable feast of rugby as New Zealand recovered from defeat against France in the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup to claim a superb 39-35 win over the world champions.
With 10 tries in all, Jonah Lomu's injury-time touch down ultimately proved the difference between the sides, but it nevertheless failed to prevent Australia from winning their first Tri-Nations title.
The series came down to the final game, and while it lacked the flair and creativity of earlier clashes, when Aussie wing Stirling Mortlock stepped up to take the last kick of the match 10 minutes into injury time, the tension proved unbearable.
Mortlock kept his head to see Australia scrape home 19-18 and deny New Zealand their fourth Southern Hemisphere victory.
It was undoubtedly a body blow for the Kiwis, but All Black fans still had much to cheer, when Canterbury Crusaders defended their Super 12 title with a breathtaking 20-19 victory over ACT Brumbies.
For rugby players and fans alike, the year 2000 proved beyond all doubt the sport remains in good health on the pitch, though off it there is still much work to do.
The English and Samoan Rugby Football unions were both recently afflicted by strikes, as contracted players took action against various levels of pay.
Indeed, English rugby continues to suffer setbacks over its future direction and the calls for a European league remain ignored, despite growing recognition that it could only be good for the Northern Hemisphere game.
In Europe, there are questions too about the structure of the sport, with friendly internationals and the Six Nations championship interrupting Europe's premier club competition, the Heineken Cup.
Nevertheless, fans around the world can feel proud that their sport continues to capture the imagination and as the Lions tour to Australia edges ever closer that will surely increase during the forthcoming months.
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