World Rugby Awards 2018 and, a huge decision from Joe Schmidt

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World Rugby Awards 2018 and, a huge decision from Joe Schmidt
DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 17: Ireland sing the National Anthem during the International Friendly match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland on November 17, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

On Sunday night in Monaco, the annual World Rugby Awards were held. The glittering festival of International rugby is where the best and brightest men, women and national teams can be applauded – and Irish Rugby received the loudest applause in 2018.

That was for the team, as much as for their individual players and head coach. But in a surreal twist of the norm, the usual dominance by New Zealand was ‘flipped’ in respect of the rise and rise of Ireland, and Irish rugby.

Crystalized by the big individual winner of the night, Jonathon Sexton’s winning the World Rugby ‘Men’s Player of the Year’, and that of his head coach Joe Schmidt. Commended for his spectacular turnaround of the Irish teams’ fortunes, he took the ‘Coach of the Year’ award with due credit.

Yet, even with the rugby world at his feet; a highly skilled and attractive coach (who was soon to be off contract) he followed up winning COTY with an announcement that was against the grain of popular opinion – he would be leaving Irish Rugby after the World Cup….and that he would not be coaching at any level.

World Rugby Awards 2018 and a huge decision from Joe Schmidt

The news was both shocking but, also hugely respected. The decision was influenced by his family, and after more than a decade in the Northern hemisphere as a professional rugby coach, Schmidt has chosen the moment to end his term as Irish Rugby coach, at the pinnacle of his powers.

‘Going out on top’ has never been more succinct.

Last Word on Rugby respect the coaches call, and the award comes at the perfect moment for coach and player. The team and the star players within it have all gelled perfectly in 2018. Beginning with a Grand Slam/Six Nations title, a series win in Australia, and then the peak of perfection – a victory at home over New Zealand two weeks ago.

No wonder his side scooped the majority of the big awards. Ireland’s Johnny Sexton and France’s Jessy Trémoulière have been named World Rugby Men’s and Women’s Players of the Year.

A position more accustomed by the current World Champions, though the All Blacks were still a factor in nominations, with the Black Ferns Sevens claiming the Women’s Rugby Sevens player of the Year, Michaela Blyde.

Though with this public acknowledgment by World Rugby, it is an endorsement of Ireland’s form – the most winningest team ‘should’ be voted as the team of the year. And that thinking was self-evident in Monaco, on Sunday evening.

Ireland take the Majority of Major World Rugby Awards

Full list of World Rugby Awards winners

  • World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year, in association with Mastercard – Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
  • World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year, in association with Mastercard – Jessy Trémoulière (France)
  • World Rugby Team of the Year – Ireland

  • World Rugby Coach of the Year – Joe Schmidt (Ireland)
  • World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year in association with TUDOR – Aphiwe Dyantyi (South Africa)
  • World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year in association with HSBC – Perry Baker (USA)
  • World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year in association with HSBC – Michaela Blyde (New Zealand)
  • World Rugby Referee Award – Angus Gardner (Australia)
  • Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service – Yoshiro Mori (Japan)
  • Award for Character in association with Land Rover – Doddie Weir (Scotland)
  • Spirit of Rugby Award in association with Dove Men+Care – Jamie Armstrong, The Clan (Scotland)
  • IRP Special Merit Award – Stephen Moore (Australia) and DJ Forbes (New Zealand)
  • IRP Try of the Year – Brodie Retallick (New Zealand v Australia)

For more details on the World Rugby Awards, visit www.world.rugby/awards.

While the winners and the awards nominees must all be congratulated, sub-stories exist. How Ireland have finally usurped the ‘normal’ claimants of the top awards. No longer can New Zealand grasp all the top awards – they may still hold the silverware, yet this years’ annual prizegiving demonstrates that ‘every dog has its day’.

The final note must be of the surprising news that Joe Schmidt has decided not to take on the future challenge past the Rugby World Cup. I will have been a hard decision, but the public consensus is that family come first. Once the challenge of 2019 has ended, he will sleep easy knowing that he has helped Ireland emerge as a real challenger to the All Blacks title.

If this years’ awards characterize anything, it is that there has been a shift in the pendulum of World Rugby. Recognition of one team’s elevation, and of the reality that ‘there is more to life than just rugby’.

 

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