Wales wing Shane Williams has been named the International Rugby Board Player of the Year for 2008. He received the prize at the IRB Awards ceremony in association with Emirates Airline, which was held in London on Sunday evening.
The 31-year-old, who scored six tries during the 2008 Six Nations to break the Wales all-time try scoring record, is the first Welshman to pick up the most prestigious individual award on the Rugby calendar.
Williams fought off stiff competition from New Zealand fly half and 2005 IRB Player of the Year Dan Carter, his Wales teammate Ryan Jones, Scotland scrum half Mike Blair and Italy captain Sergio Parisse to win the nomination from the IRB Awards judging panel convened by double Rugby World Cup winner John Eales.
"It's quite mad to be honest," said Williams moments after receiving the award. "It's been a hell of a year and this has just capped it off really. It's the biggest honour you can get as an individual in rugby and it's totally overwhelming."
On an evening of celebration and reflection at the ceremony hosted at Old Billingsgate, Williams’ success prevented a clean-sweep for New Zealand of the top awards as New Zealand reclaimed the IRB Team of the Year award while Graham Henry was named IRB Coach of the Year.
New Zealand multiple winners
For the All Blacks and Henry, the awards cap a tremendous year that saw the team bounce back from a disappointing Rugby World Cup to win the Tri Nations in 2008. To date New Zealand has a record 12 wins from 14 Test matches with the possibility of a successful grand slam tour of the northern hemisphere on the cards if they beat England at Twickenham on November 29.
"It's been very satistfying," said Henry reflecting on the year and his award. "There have been 15 or so players who left us after the Rugby World Cup to play in this part of the world so it's great to have a team that's relatively young and inexperienced come through and do the business."
Continuing a successful evening for New Zealand, DJ Forbes was named IRB Sevens Player of the Year. A key player in New Zealand’s dominance of the eight-round Grand Prix style Series, captain Forbes led by example, scoring 130 points as his side claimed the title for the eighth time in nine seasons.
New Zealand’s evening of awards was rounded off with promising talent Luke Braid winning the IRB Junior Player of the Year. The new category, introduced to reflect performances at the IRB Junior World Championship which made its debut in 2008, was hugely competitive with Braid facing stiff competition from teammate Chris Smith and England’s Joe Simpson for the prestigious age grade accolade.
More Awards winners
The International Rugby Players’ Association (IRPA) Special Merit award went to former Argentina captain Agustin Pichot. This was in recognition for his tremendous service to the Game on and off the field and in particular his role over the last decade in helping drive Argentina into the top five of the world. The IRPA Try of the Year was awarded to the Irish team and Brian O'Driscoll who scored a wonderful try against Australia in June.
The IRB Women's Personality of the Year was awarded to Carol Isherwood OBE, one of the driving forces behind England’s success on and off the field over the past decade and a champion of the global development of the Women’s Game. The IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service was awarded to 1999 and 2003 Rugby World Cup final referee and SA Rugby Referee Manager Andre Watson.
The Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service went to former Australia international Sir Nicolas Shehadie OBE, the Spirit of Rugby Award was presented to Roelien Muller and Patrick Cotter, organisers of the Phuket 10s who raise funds for orphans of the 2004 Tsunami. The IRB Development Award was given to the TAG Rugby Development Trust who introduce thousands of children to Rugby in Africa and India each year through the non-contact form of the Game.
The ceremony also saw the announcement of five inductees into the IRB Hall of Fame. Established in 2006 to chronicle the achievements and the special contribution of Rugby's players, coaches, administrators, match officials, institutions and individuals, the 2008 inductees are; 1888 Natives Team of New Zealand and their captain Joe Warbrick, Melrose Club and Ned Haig, British Lions legend Dr Jack Kyle, Argentina great Hugo Porta and France’s record breaker Philippe Sella.
You can catch video highlights from the ceremony on www.irb.com on Monday, 24 November.
IRB Awards 2008
IRB Player of the Year: Shane Williams (Wales)
IRB Team of the Year: New Zealand
IRB Coach of the Year: Graham Henry (New Zealand)
IRB Junior Player of the Year: Luke Braid (New Zealand)
IRB Sevens Player of the Year: DJ Forbes (New Zealand)
Spirit of Rugby Award: Roelien Muller and Patrick Cotter
Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service: Sir Nicholas Shehadie
IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service: Andre Watson
IRB International Women's Personality of the Year: Carol Isherwood
IRB Development Award: Tag Rugby Development Trust and Martin Hansford
IRPA Special Merit Award: Agustin Pichot
IRPA Try of the Year: Brian O'Driscoll, Australia v Ireland
IRB Hall of Fame inductees: 1888 Natives Team of New Zealand & Joe Warbrick, Melrose & Ned Haig, Dr Jack Kyle, Hugo Porta and Philippe Sella.
Photographs of the IRB Awards are available from Getty Images publicity site.