New Zealand's inspirational captain Richie McCaw has been named the International Rugby Board Player of the Year 2009 in association with Emirates Airline.
The 28-year-old was presented with the Award following the France v New Zealand test match in Marseille this evening and becomes the first person to have been awarded Rugby's most prestigious individual accolade twice, having previously been named IRB Player of the Year in 2006.
Despite the end of New Zealand's four-year reign as Tri Nations champions, the flanker led by example, producing a series of outstanding individual performances while driving his team to a clean sweep of November test victories.
In the most closely contested race to be named IRB Player of the Year since the Award's inception in 2001, McCaw fought off stiff competition from Ireland's Jamie Heaslip and Brian O'Driscoll, South Africa's Fourie du Preez and Francois Steyn, Australia's Matt Giteau and England's Tom Croft during a year of memorable test match encounters.
"It is a huge honour. I am extremely proud. I am just happy to be part of a team doing well. I am happy to do my bit, but it is a great honour. I said it before, you can't do it without a bunch of mates. It has been a trying year at times, but it is great to be part of a winning team," said McCaw.
The IRB Player of the Year is selected by the IRB Awards independent panel of judges, comprising former internationals with over 500 Test caps between them. Will Greenwood, Gavin Hastings, Raphaël Ibanez, Francois Pienaar, Agustin Pichot, Scott Quinnell, Tana Umaga, Paul Wallace and convenor John Eales watched over 63 hours of action from 49 matches, awarding points to the three players they thought stood out in each match.
"There is no doubt that this was a particularly closely-fought year with each of the shortlisted players producing outstanding performances. Richie is an inspirational figure, a fine leader and one of the greats of the Game in recent years, and a deserving recipient of the IRB Player of the Year Award for the second time," said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset.
Earlier on Saturday, South Africa were named IRB Team of the Year and Ireland's Declan Kidney the IRB Coach of the Year at Croke Park following the match between the Tri Nations and Six Nations champions.
This trio of Awards presented today means nine of the 13 coveted IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline, including the IRB Hall of Fame, have now been presented. In May, England captain Ollie Phillips was named IRB Sevens Player of the Year, while Aaron Cruden was named IRB Junior Player of the Year in June after leading New Zealand Under 20s to the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship title.
Australia's Debby Hodgkinson was named IRB Women's Personality of the Year in August, L'Aquila Rugby Club received the Spirit of Rugby Award in September and this month Francis Palmade received the IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service.
In a new format for the IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline, winners have been named throughout the year with the Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service, IRB Development Award, IRPA Special Merit Award and the IRPA Try of the Year still to be made before the end of 2009.
2001 - Keith Wood (Ireland)
2002 - Fabien Galthié (France)
2003 - Jonny Wilkinson (England)
2004 - Schalk Burger (South Africa)
2005 - Daniel Carter (New Zealand)
2006 - Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
2007 - Bryan Habana (South Africa)
2008 - Shane Williams (Wales)