The nominees for IRB Junior Player of the Year 2012 have been announced with Ireland fly half JJ Hanrahan and South African pair, centre Jan Serfontein and flanker Shaun Adendorff, the players shortlisted for the prestigious award.
This is the fifth award of this name, having changed from the Under 19 or Under 21 Player of the Year when the International Rugby Board restructured its age grade tournaments to create the IRB Junior World Championship and IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, both Under 20 tournaments.
We take a look back at the four previous winners of the IRB Junior Player of the Year award, one of whom now has a Rugby World Cup winners' medal to go with his IRB Junior World Championship winners' medal and Player of the Year trophy.
2008 - Luke Braid (New Zealand)
A member of the New Zealand side that won the last IRB Under 19 World Championship in 2007, Luke Braid returned to claim a second age grade title at JWC 2008 in Wales. A powerful flanker, he was a great link man with the talented backline, ensuring they got quick ball from the forwards to shine. He cleared out rucks at well and continually popped up in support of others, keeping the moves alive. Braid has taken over the captaincy of the struggling Blues in Super Rugby this season, leading by example with his commitment to the cause and destructive presence at the breakdown. His father Gary and older brother Daniel are former All Blacks, will Luke follow in their footsteps in the years to come?
Other nominees: Chris Smith (NZL), Joe Simpson (ENG)
2009 - Aaron Cruden (New Zealand)
The second New Zealand captain to lift the distinctive JWC trophy, Aaron Cruden drew huge inspiration from pulling on the famous black jersey and captaining his country at JWC 2009 in Japan. The 20-year-old 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 the Baby Blacks' favour. Cruden, along with wing Zac Guildford, were the driving forces in the final as well, the fly half scoring two tries in three minutes among a 19-point haul to set New Zealand on the way to a 44-28 win over England and prompted coach Dave Rennie to label him "worth his weight in gold to us".
Cruden's success was all the more special given that a year earlier he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and then also had to beat a knee injury to lead the Baby Blacks. Cruden's stock has continued to rise, his All Blacks debut coming in June 2010 and then found himself thrust into the spotlight at Rugby World Cup 2011 when called up to replace the injured Dan Carter. He came off the bench against Argentina in the quarter finals, outshone Wallaby fly half Quade Cooper in the semi finals and started the final before limping off with a knee injury, enduring a nervous wait on the sidelines until the All Blacks ended a 24-year wait to hold aloft the Webb Ellis Cup again. He has continued that impressive form for the Chiefs this season under his mentor Dave Rennie and will start the final Test against Ireland on Saturday in Hamilton.
Other nominees: Winston Stanley (NZL), Richard Kingi (AUS), Carl Fearns (ENG)
2010 - Julian Savea (New Zealand)
The New Zealand wing made a huge impact on JWC 2010 in Argentina, his powerful and athleticism meant he was almost impossible to stop when in full flight, leaving defenders in his wake and scoring some memorable tries. Described by commentators as a "smaller Jonah Lomu", Savea scored eight tries in less than two and a half matches to equal the record of another Baby Blacks flyer Zac Guildford for a single tournament. The 19-year-old had already played for New Zealand Sevens by that point and showed great spatial awareness coupled with his speed and strength. Savea has been in impressive form this year for the Wellington Hurricanes and was rewarded for his Super Rugby with a call-up to the All Blacks squad for the June series with Ireland. He enjoyed a dream debut at Eden Park, becoming the first All Black to score three tries in a Test with Ireland.
Other nominees: Tyler Bleyendaal (NZL), Robbie Coleman (AUS), Ignacio Rodriguez Muedra (ARG)
2011 - George Ford (England)
The youngest player at JWC 2011 in Italy, George Ford’s skills and vision belied his tender age of 18 years and three months as he steered England to a third final in four years. Described as a “very mature player” and someone who “sets the tone in the squad” by England Under 20 coach Rob Hunter, Ford always seemed to have options and more often than not took the right one. He did miss a handful of kicks in the final which proved the difference as New Zealand won a fourth title with a 33-22 win. Ford - the youngest player ever to play a professional match in England - has continued to impress when given the No.10 jersey for the Leicester Tigers, earning Man of the Match awards in the latter stages of the LV= Cup and Premiership play-offs. He was eligible for JWC 2012 but was not selected, prompting suggestions he may be travelling to South Africa with the senior squad. That proved unfounded and England Under 20s have certainly missed his presence as they failed to reached the semi finals for the first time and with one match to go they can finish no higher than seventh.
Other nominees: Luke Whitelock (NZL), Sam Cane (NZL)
Who will follow in their footsteps and be named IRB Junior Player of the Year 2012?
For the first time, the public now has the chance to vote on this shortlist on the official Facebook page www.facebook.com/irbjuniorworldrugby. The results of the public poll will be considered, along with the original votes, when finalising the winner.