Following the thrilling 2015 Rugby World Cup, these past 12 months in the world of rugby shows the exponential growth, and increasing standard of the game. In a year where we saw rugby reintroduced back into the Olympic Games, the success following the World Cup has been ideal.
Tonight’s World Rugby Awards night showcased this in fantastic form, with the prestigious evening celebrating the achievements of some of the best in the business. The stage was set, the red carpet had been walked and it was time for the ceremony to begin. The only question was – who was going to win?
— Karl O'Shaughnessy (@OShaughnessyK) November 14, 2016
With twelve awards up for grabs, each category was bursting with talent from men’s, women’s, 15’s and 7’s rugby. Labelled the ‘showpiece evening’ there was no doubt the competition was fierce. However, first and foremost the Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service to Rugby went to Syd Millar. The stalwart of Irish rugby after earning 37 caps in his playing days, along with many years as a coach. He also a well-known force within World Rugby (formerly the IRB) and is credited for a substantial efforts in bringing Sevens Rugby to the Olympic stage.
On collecting his award, Syd’s comedic nature shone through when he expressed “Of course I’d rather be receiving the Young Player of the Year award.”
World Rugby recognizes services to Rugby
Next up was the World Rugby Character Award, noticing and appreciating the hard; and more often than not voluntary, work groups do around the globe to encompass the ethics of rugby into day-to-day life. The award went to Rugby Opens Borders which is an initiative in Austria that allows immigrants to get into rugby, and develop social channels along with playing the game – a well deserved recipient of this award.
The International Rugby Player’s Association Special Merit Award recognises players who’s outstanding efforts on and off the pitch enhance the core values of the sport. Jean De Villiers has had a sterling career, captaining South Africa on many occasions and becoming a Springbok legend.
His humbling and wholesome persona lends itself to him being one of the most likable and inspirational people within the game. After hanging his boots up just over six months ago, De Villiers continues to encourage young players and to bring his expertise to games via commentary for various outlets. A perfect representative of the game and it’s positive vibe, De Villiers said he was “honoured” to be given this award.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) November 13, 2016
After a superb year of Women’s Sevens Rugby, Charlotte Caslick was the poster girl of the Olympics and key to Australia’s success in Rio. As women’s rugby grows, Caslick is a beacon of inspiration for young women around the globe. The sevens series winning player credited her fellow sportswomen for their continuing efforts in growing the game. Named Women’s Sevens Player of the Year, she accepted the award on behalf of her teammates, who she said are “her biggest influence”.
The Men’s Sevens Player of the Year was a hotly contested category. At the end of an extraordinary year for the code, Blitzboks star Saebelo Senatla came out on top, and expressed his delight at the achievement. 66 tries down, the speedster is fast becoming one of the ‘most feared men on the pitch’ and described playing in the Olympics as “incredible” and “a dream”.
“It doesn’t mean as much as it probably should mean but that’s just because I’m part of a team and this is for them. Winning something individual seems weird when you’re part of a team but I am so grateful anyway.”
A “humbled” and “honoured” Maro Itoje received a huge round of applause on receipt of World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year. A valuable and key player in England’s astonishing year, Itoje played down the idea of stepping into the captaincy role, but appreciated the thought that he has had some impact on an unbeaten year under Eddie Jones.
“It’s great to be recognised in this way, but I know that without my team-mates, coaches and back-room staff I wouldn’t be here tonight.” pic.twitter.com/pxTh97zHii
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 13, 2016
Ever popular among England and Saracens supporters, the composed youngster has been one of the country’s most impressive and exciting prospects to come through the age-grade rugby system. This player is far from his peak though, and he will undoubtedly bring some more magic to the game on return from injury in the next few months – if he carries on this way, the ‘hypothetical’ idea of becoming captain could certainly be reality come the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The IRPA Try of the Year Award was voted for by the public. Whittled down by a select panel, each try was awesome to watch in their own right. However Jamie Heaslip’s epic effort saw him win the coveted trophy. A perfect ‘team try’ against Italy during the 2016 Six Nations, it was a sublime display of footwork, flair and ball-handling skills across a rapid Irish attacking line.
Against the norm, but deserved all the same, there were two recipients of the Referee of the Year Award – Alhambra Nievas and Rasta Rasivhenge. The joint-winners each bring fairness and formality to a game that is constantly adapting it’s laws to improve player safety and conduct. Nievas is a huge force within women’s sevens refereeing and is a prime example of defeating all odds. Rasivhenge is credited as a no-nonsense ‘commander of the sport’ and both equally deserve to be recognised as significant role models of discipline and desire.
Supreme World Rugby Awards
The announcement of World Rugby Coach of the Year was perhaps the most eye-catching fixture of the evening. Off the back of a World Cup winning campaign, 2016 was always going to be a slight ‘anti-climax’ for New Zealand, however with Steve Hansen at the helm they were always in good hands. As coach of the best team in the world, Hansen picked up the award for the second time ahead of Ben Ryan and Eddie Jones. Speaking of the All Blacks shock loss to Ireland last week, he admitted, “We haven’t got any excuses, we were beaten by the better side.”
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) November 14, 2016
Following on nicely from the previous award, New Zealand were handed the Team of the Year Award. Hailed as ‘perfect representatives of the game’ their superior tactics and feisty play are polar opposite to their off field grace. Humble in every way, the All Blacks have nothing left to prove – an amazing achievement.
Sarah Hunter (main picture) has led the England team out onto the battlefield on many occasion, however tonight the spotlight was on her alone. Receiving the Women’s Player of the Year award, she said it was “thanks to her teammates” that she has enjoyed the successes with the Red Roses. With the Women’s Rugby World Cup being hosted in Ireland next year, Hunter has her eyes set on another global win.
Final award of the night looked at the Men’s Player of the Year and it was down to one man – Beauden Barrett. The All Black finished off the night well for the team, who reign at the top of the World Rugby rankings. He said “word’s couldn’t describe how proud he feels” to be given this award. Having been introduced into the ‘leadership group’ within the side, he explained how this year has been a step up for his personal game.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) November 13, 2016
With the ceremony completed, it certainly was a night filled with celebration. It was joyful to see so many appreciating the people who represent rugby both on, and off the pitch. It is a game that sometimes takes a hit and comes under hard scrutiny. However when it comes down to the basics, rugby is a game for all people and this is what tonight has confirmed.
“Main photo credit”