Stars past and present descended on Vector Arena in Auckland for the IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline on 24 October, a day after New Zealand had edged France 8-7 to end their quest for a second Rugby World Cup win.
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw may have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup but it was his French counterpart Thierry Dusautoir who claimed the biggest award of the night, being named IRB Player of the Year 2011.
The first Frenchman to receive the prestigious award since former Les Bleus captain Fabien Galthié in 2002, Dusautoir was in outstanding form throughout 2011 and particularly at the World Cup with a man of the match display in the Final.
The flanker, who said he was “really honoured” and “very proud” to be named Player of the Year, received the award ahead of the other shortlisted players, All Blacks Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino and Australians David Pocock and Will Genia.
Dusautoir succeeds Richie McCaw, the winner in 2006, 2009 and 2010, as Player of the Year and joins an honour roll that also includes Keith Wood, Jonny Wilkinson, Schalk Burger, Daniel Carter, Bryan Habana and Shane Williams.
An independent panel of judges, chaired by World Cup winner John Eales and made up of former internationals with more than 500 caps between them, selected Dusautoir after deliberating on every major Test match played in 2011, from the opening Six Nations match to the RWC 2011 Final.
Double celebration: Rugby World Cup winners New Zealand were named IRB Team of the Year
McCaw did get his hands on one of the distinctive awards, collecting the IRB Team of the Year Award on behalf of the newly crowned world champions, the fifth time in seven years that the All Blacks have received the award.
There was further success for the All Blacks with the departing Graham Henry named IRB Coach of the Year for a record fifth time and paying tribute to both McCaw, the rest of the players and his coaching team for the successful year.
Nine other awards were presented on an evening which also celebrated 125 years of the International Rugby Board, including the Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service to Jock Hobbs, an inspirational figure in New Zealand rugby both as a former captain and administrator, helping to win the bid to host RWC 2011 and standing as Chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union and RNZ 2011 Limited before stepping down due to ill health.
Another New Zealander honoured for his service to the Game was former referee and administrator Keith Lawrence, the recipient of the IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service in association with Emirates Airline following his retirement in 2011.
The youngest player honoured on the night was England Under 20s fly half George Ford, the 18-year-old being named IRB Junior Player of the Year. The first Englishman to win the award, Ford caught the eye at the IRB Junior World Championship 2011 in Italy and beat New Zealand captain Luke Whitelock and flanker Sam Cane to the honour.
Cecil Afrika, South Africa’s inspirational playmaker and sweeper, was recognised as the IRB Sevens Player of the Year in association with HSBC after ending the 2010/11 Sevens World Series as the leading try and point scorer. The other two nominees were Tomasi Cama and Tim Mikkelson who had helped New Zealand win the Series crown.
Former Australia captain George Smith was honoured for his services to the Game with the IRPA (International Rugby Players’ Association) Special Merit Award. A veteran of 110 Tests, Smith retired from international rugby in 2010, a decade after make his debut for the Wallabies against France in Paris.
Cecil Afrika, IRB Sevens Player of the Year in association with HSBC - Photo: IRB\Martin Seras Lima
Another Australian to receive an award on the night was Radike Samo, the number 8’s effort against Australia in the Tri Nations decider with New Zealand in Brisbane being judged the IRPA Try of the Year 2011. Samo had shrugged off a couple of All Blacks and outsprinted the cover defence as Australia secured a first Tri Nations title since 2001.
Ruth Mitchell received the IRB Women’s Personality of the Year Award in recognition of her services to the Game. A former player, in her role as Director of Development for the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, she has been a driving force behind the growth of youth and women’s rugby in the region.
The IRB Development Award 2011 went to USA Rugby for its innovative Rookie Rugby programme. The scheme, which involves schools, rugby organisations and local community-based projects across the States, had an initial target of introducing 100,000 children aged from six to 12 to the sport, but the reality has far outstripped that and continues to gather momentum.
Wooden Spoon, meanwhile, became the first charity to receive the Spirit of Rugby Award in recognition of their voluntary work with underprivileged children across the UK for over 25 years.
Before the star-studded ceremony drew to a close, 19 founders, pioneers and legends of Rugby World Cup were inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame, including each winning coach and captain.
The 19 inductees were: Dr Roger Vanderfield, Richard Littlejohn, Sir Nicholas Shehadie, John Kendall-Carpenter, David Kirk, Sir Brian Lochore, Nick Farr-Jones, Bob Dwyer, Francois Pienaar, Kitch Christie, Rod Macqueen, Martin Johnson CBE, Sir Clive Woodward OBE, John Smit, Jake White, Gareth Rees, Agustín Pichot, Brian Lima and Jonah Lomu.