All Black Kieran Read has been paid a double compliment by his fellow professionals – winning IRPA’s first Ultimate Rugby players’ Player of the Year award, as well as a place in the players’ World XV of the Year.
Only days after being named the IRB’s outstanding player of the year and NZ Rugby’s Player of the Year, Read becomes the first recipient of the player’s Player of the Year title, having shrugged off challenges from fellow shortlisted candidates, Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) and All Black team-mate Ben Smith.
Neither Halfpenny nor Smith have completely missed out, however; each joining Read in the player’s World XV of the Year.
The “IRPAS” - the first rugby awards judged by the players for the players, saw Australian AFL-convert Israel Folau win the “International Newcomer of the Year” award, and the players’ “Team of the Year” title bestowed on New Zealand.
“It’s pretty humbling, to be honest,” Read said of his award. “There’s no greater honour than to be recognised by the people you play against.
“Rugby’s a tough game - on the field there’s no quarter given or expected. So for your opponents to single you out for this sort of attention means an awful lot.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Read had been outstanding throughout the All Blacks’ unbeaten calendar year; was a deserving recipient of the inaugural title, and congratulated IRPA for initiating the awards.
“Despite the intense rivalry in international rugby, there’s a sense of honour and respect among players that these awards have captured nicely,” he said.
“I’m delighted for Kieran, of course. But I’m equally delighted the players now have the opportunity to recognise their peers in such a positive way.”
The players’ World XV of the Year comprises seven New Zealanders, four Welshmen, two South Africans and one player each from France and England.
There was stiff competition for places at loose-forward, where All Black Liam Messam only just pipped Argentine Juan Fernandez Lobbe for the No.6 berth, and in the halfback pairings, where New Zealanders Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden received marginally more votes than Samoan No.9 Kahn Fotuali’i and Irish stand-off Johnny Sexton.
However, the biggest bone of contention in the World XV was in the midfield with voting spread across four players – New Zealanders Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith; South African Jean de Villiers and French inside centre Wesley Fofana.
The final count favoured Fofana and Smith.
Warren Gatland, coach of Wales and the British and Ireland Lions, was pleased to see four players from his RBS Six Nations champions make the cut, and especially outstanding fullback Leigh Halfpenny.
“I’m chuffed for all of them, naturally – it’s been a very good year for the British and Irish Lions, and for Wales,” he said.
“But I’m particularly pleased for Leigh (Halfpenny). He was a stand-out performer during the Lions’ win in Australia earlier in the year and was also at his very best throughout our Six Nations campaign.”
Folau, who is the first athlete in history to play Rugby League, Australian Rule Football and Rugby Union at the highest level, took the international scene by storm in 2013, scoring 10 tries for the Wallabies – in the process equalling the record for a year set by Lote Tuqiri in 2004.
“I’ve really enjoyed my first year in rugby, but there is a lot I can improve on which I am now focussing on,” said Folau. “ Receiving this award is humbling because it’s been voted by my peers. I couldn’t have enjoyed the year I’ve had without the support of my team mates, coaches and officials, so this is as much for them as it is for me.”
Meanwhile, rugby supporters still have time to vote for the IRPA Fans’ Player and World XV of the Year Awards; the winners of which will be announced next week.
All fans need to do is to go to www.ultimaterugby.com, download the mobile app and follow the voting instructions contained within.
Ultimate Rugby IRPA Awards. Category winners.
Players’ Player of the Year: Kieran Read
Players’ World XV of the Year: Alex Corbisiero (ENG), Bismarck du Plessis (SA), Adam Jones (WAL), Eben Etzebeth (SA), Sam Whitelock; (NZ) Liam Messam (NZ), Sam Warburton (WAL), Kieran Read (NZ); Aaron Smith (NZ), Aaron Cruden (NZ), George North (WAL), Wesley Fofana (FRA), Conrad Smith (NZ), Ben Smith (NZ), Leigh Halfpenny (WAL).
Players’ International Newcomer of the Year: Israel Folau (AUS)
Players’ Team of the Year: New Zealand