The International Rugby Board has announced a shortlist of four nominees for the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2009, the second IRB Award in association with Emirates Airline to be presented this year.
The IRB Junior Player of the Year will be announced following the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship Final between England and New Zealand on Sunday, June 21 at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.
Three of the four semi finalists at the Under 20 tournament are represented in the shortlist with New Zealand captain and fly half Aaron Cruden joined by team-mate Winston Stanley, England number 8 Carl Fearns and Australia scrum half Richard Kingi.
The announcement follows the introduction of an exciting new format for the IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline. Starting this year, the winner of each of the 13 coveted categories of awards will be named at different stages throughout the year, culminating in the announcement of the prestigious IRB Player, Coach and Team of the Year in November.
The shortlist represents the voting of team head coaches and media at the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 in Japan.
Aaron Cruden (New Zealand)
The 20-year-old is playing in his first international tournament and has, in his own words, drawn inspiration from pulling on the famous black jersey and captaining his country. He played against Uruguay and Ireland in the pool stages, but it was in the semi final with Australia that Cruden’s class and composure came to the fore, his vision allowing New Zealand to break through the defence and create the two tries in as many minutes which turned the match in his side’s favour.
Winston Stanley (New Zealand)
A member of New Zealand’s victorious side at the IRB Under 19 World Championship 2007 in Belfast, Stanley has taken on more of a leadership role in Japan and has consistently provided the Baby Blacks with forward momentum, breaking the gain-line and opening up spaces for arguably the best backline in the Championship to slip through and keep the scoreboard ticking over. The 20-year-old, who is the nephew of former All Black and World Cup winner Joe Stanley, has scored two tries, including a decisive one in the 17-0 defeat of Ireland in the pool stages.
Carl Fearns (England)
Injuries have limited his progress since he captained England Under 18s on their tour to Australia in 2007, but eager to make up for lost time Fearns has been a constant thorn in the side of England’s opponents in Japan, both for his physical presence at number 8 and deceptive turn of pace. The 20-year-old weighed in with four tries in the pool stages – including a brace in the Pool B decider with Samoa – and has been described by coach Mark Mapletoft as someone who leads by example.
Richard Kingi (Australia)
The 20-year-old had caught the eye playing for Australia on the IRB Sevens World Series this season and would surely have ended his debut year as the leading point scorer but for missing the climax to play in for his country’s Under 20s in Japan. He has translated his impressive form into 15-a-side Rugby and scored a record-breaking 26-point haul – including four tries – in Australia’s opening Pool D victory over Canada. The lively scrum half is always quick to spot the gap in the defence and as Australia’s first choice kicker has accumulated 49 points in the Championship to date.