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Qantas Wallabies fullback Israel Folau has capped a sensational debut year by being shortlisted for the International Rugby Players Association (IRPA) Newcomer of the Year Award alongside All Blacks Ben Smith and Charles Piutau.
Folau only switched to Rugby Union late in 2012, but in his first season he has been outstanding for the Wallabies playing in all 15 Tests for the Wallabies this year and scoring ten tries, to equal Lote Tuqiri’s record for the most tries scored for the Wallabies in a calendar year.
In other awards the IRPA’s Ultimate Rugby Players' Player of the Year Award, as voted by the World’s top international Players, has boiled down to a vote-off between Wales, and British and Irish Lions star Leigh Halfpenny, and All Blacks Smith and Kieran Read.
Welsh fullback Halfpenny was a standout performer for Six Nations Champions Wales, eventually being named Player of the Tournament.
Halfpenny also played in all three tests on the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia; breaking the Lions’ point-scoring record (previously held by Neil Jenkins) and being crowned Player of the Series.
Read and Smith have been similarly outstanding during New Zealand’s unbeaten run through the calendar year.
No.8 Read scored six tries in 13 Tests and took over the captaincy of the side in the six internationals Richie McCaw was unavailable.
Outside back Smith proved a revelation, scoring 11 tries in 14 games; 10 of them on the wing before switching to centre to fill the vacancy left by namesake Conrad.
Halfpenny said it was a huge honour to be included on a shortlist chosen by his peers and fellow professionals.
“I’m thrilled, to be honest,” he said. “There are awards and there are awards, but to be recognised by the people you play against week-in, week-out - well, that’s about as good as it gets.”
Smith was delighted to be a finalist in two categories.
“I’ve really enjoyed the year and this just tops it all off, really,” he said. “The awards are a fantastic initiative and to be named as a finalist in two categories feels pretty special.”
The winner of the IRPA Player of the Year and Newcomer of the year Awards will be announced this week, along with winners of the Players’ World XV of the Year and Team of the Year categories.
Also to be announced will be the IRPA Fans’ Player and World XV of the Year Awards; voting on which continues via Ultimate Rugby’s downloadable app.
All fans (rugby enthusiasts, players, officials – even referees) need to do is to go to www.ultimaterugby.com, download the mobile app and follow the voting instructions contained within.
IRPA Players' Player of the Year Award shortlist: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Kieran Read (NZ), Ben Smith (NZ).
IRPA Players' Newcomer of the Year Award shortlist: Israel Folau (Australia), Ben Smith (NZ), Charles Piutau (NZ).