South Africa’s Bryan Habana has won the the IRB Player of the Year Award at the 2007 IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline. He is the second South African, after Schalk Burger, to pick up the most prestigious award on the Rugby calendar.
South Africa were named IRB Team of the Year and Jake White won the IRB Coach of the Year award, to add to the IRB Rugby World Cup crown they claimed at Stade de France against England on 20 October.
Habana was picked ahead of four other nominees – Argentina centre Felipe Contepomi, New Zealand flanker and 2006 IRB Player of the Year Richie McCaw, French centre Yannick Jauzion and Argentina fly half Juan Hernandez.
Habana has scored 13 tries in 10 internationals during 2007, including four tries during RWC 2007.
The winners were selected by the Awards' independent panel of judges, made up of former internationals with over 500 caps between them. The Awards panel deliberated on every major Test match played this year starting with the first Six Nations match and finishing with the IRB Rugby World Cup final.
IRB Hall of Fame
Following a public vote on www.irb.com and the deliberations of the Hall of Fame Induction Panel, chaired by the IRB Chairman Dr Syd Millar, five greats from the Game have been inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame. They are Pierre de Coubertin, Wilson Whineary, Dr Danny Craven, Gareth Edwards and John Eales.
Sevens awards to New Zealand
New Zealand, overall winners of the IRB World Sevens Series 2007-08, have been named Sevens Team of the Year. New Zealand speedster Afeleki Pelenise, who played such an important part in snatching victory from Fiji to claim the title, has won the award for Sevens Player of the Year.
IRB Development Award
Jacob Thompson is the winner of this year’s Development Award. Thompson came home to Jamaica from England in the early 1970s and started a mission to bring Rugby to the island that continues to this day. Thanks to Thompson, Jamaica now counts the sport amongst its social fabric.
Thompson played for Jamaica, coached a number of local teams and was appointed Chief Organiser for Schoolboy Rugby, a position he has retained up to now.
He has been the Chairman of Jamaica Rugby Union since 1999, and was appointed Vice-President of West Indies Rugby Union from the period 2005-2007. In 2007 he was selected as an Executive Committee Member of WIRU.
Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service
This year’s winner is a great of Spanish rugby, Jose Maria Epalza, who has contributed enormously to the sport in that country and beyond, both on and off the field.
Epalza continued to coach and captain his club in Madrid, Club de Rugby Cisneros, at the same time as representing his country, whom he turned out for a total of 38 times, including captain on a number of occasions.
He went on to coach the national side between 1986 and 1990 before concentrating on rugby administration.
From 1992 to 1996 he was Vice-president and Technical Manager of the Spanish Rugby Union. In 1992 he was elected onto the European Rugby Federation (FIRA-AER) Board, becoming Vice-president in 1996. From 1996 to 2005 he represented FIRA-AER as a member of the IRB Executive Committee.
IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service
Dick Byres is this year’s recipient of the IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service.
Having refereed 14 international matches, he was appointed as an IRB Referee Selector in 1997 when the Merit based panel was first formed and was the longest serving selector until his retirement in Jan 2007.
IRB Women’s Personality of the Year
This year’s winner is Sarah Corrigan, who in April became the first female to referee at an IRB fifteens Tournament outside the Women’s Rugby World Cup, when the Australian took charge of the IRB Under 19 World Championship match between Zimbabwe and Canada.
This came on the back of her appearances at the IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2005, culminating in the third place play-of between France and Canada.
IRB Under 19 Player of the Year
Robert Fruean was the standout performer at this year’s IRB Under 19 World Championship in Ireland. His strong running and sidestep caused havoc amongst opponents’ defences, including three tries against Wales in New Zealand’s opening match on their way to the title.
In 2006 he was a member of the New Zealand Schools side and he also represented Wellington Under 18 in 2005 and 2006.
Spirit of Rugby Award
For many, having a missing leg would end all thoughts of athletic endeavour. For Nicolas Pueta, however, it has provided no such obstacle.
Pueta has a passion for rugby that sees him play flanker for St. Andrew’s FP in Argentina. It is a heady example of triumph over adversity and mind, or spirit, over body.
IRPA Try of the Year
Takudzwa Ngwenya, USA – Not many people can claim to be quicker than Bryan Habana, but USA’s Takudzwa Ngwenya proved he had the edge by jinking his way round and past the IRB Player of the Year to round off a magnificent USA try against South Africa in the RWC 2007 pool match in Montpellier on September 30.
It began deep in the USA 22, when USA flanker Todd Clever intercepted a South Africa pass. Three passes later the ball reached Ngwenya just inside his own half. As Habana came across to make the tackle Ngwenya checked, sidestepped and powered round the South Africa wing to touch down in the right hand corner.
IRPA Special Merit Award
Fabien Pelous is one France’s greatest players, having played 118 times for his country, including 42 as captain.
Pelous made his international debut against Romania in 1995 and his final appearance in the RWC 2007 semi-final against England.
He is also a pivotal member of the highly-successful Stade Toulousain club, captaining the side to the Heineken Cup title in 2005.
Full list of IRB Awards winners
IRB Player of the Year – Bryan Habana, South Africa
IRB Team of the Year – South Africa
IRB Coach of the Year – Jake White, South Africa
IRB Under 19 Player of the Year – Robert Fruean, New Zealand
IRB Sevens Team of the Year – New Zealand
IRB Sevens Player of the Year – Afeleke Pelenise, New Zealand
IRB Women’s Personality of the Year – Sarah Corrigan
IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service - Dick Byres
Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service – Jose Maria Epalza
IRB Development Award - Jacob Thompson
Spirit of Ruby Award – Nicolas Pueta
IRPA Try of the Year - Takudzwa Ngwenya, USA
IRPA Special Merit Award – Fabien Pelous, France
IRB Hall of Fame inductees - Pierre de Coubertin, Wilson Whineary, Dr Danny Craven, Gareth Edwards, John Eales