It was a weekend to remember for South African winger Bryan Habana as just 24 hours after helping the Springboks lift the World Cup, the 24-year-old Blue Bulls star was announced as the IRB’s Player of the Year for 2007.
The 2007 IRB Awards ceremony, held at the Pavillon d’Armenonville in Paris’s Allée de Longchamp on Sunday night, saw Habana become the second South African, after 2004 winner Schalk Burger, to pick up the most prestigious award of the rugby season.
South Africa were also named IRB Team of the Year and their coach Jake White won the IRB Coach of the Year award, to add to the World Cup crown they secured at the Stade de France against England the previous night.
Habana was picked ahead of four other nominees – Leinster and Argentina centre/out-half Felipe Contepomi, New Zealand flanker and 2006 Player of the Year Richie McCaw, French centre Yannick Jauzion and Argentina out-half Juan Martin Hernandez.
The fleet-footed Habana has scored 13 tries in 10 international matches during 2007, including a record-equalling eight tries during the 2007 World Cup.
The winners were selected by the Awards’ independent panel of judges, made up of former internationals with over 500 caps between them. The Awards panel deliberated on every major Test match played this year starting with the first Six Nations match and finishing with Saturday’s World Cup final.
The other award winners on the night were:
IRB Hall of Fame –
Following a public vote on www.irb.com and the deliberations of the Hall of Fame Induction Panel, chaired by IRB chairman Dr. Syd Millar, five greats from the game have been inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame. They are Pierre de Coubertin, Wilson Whineary, Dr. Danie Craven, Gareth Edwards and John Eales.
Ireland and Lions legend Willie John McBride was a nominee in the 20th century category in which Dr. Danie Craven and Gareth Edwards were honoured. Australia’s 1999 World Cup-winning captain John Eales was the sole winner in the 21st century category.
Sevens awards to New Zealand –
New Zealand, overall winners of the IRB World Sevens Series in 2007/08, have been named Sevens Team of the Year. New Zealand speedster Afeleki Pelenise, who played such an important part in snatching victory from Fiji to claim the title, has won the award for Sevens Player of the Year.
IRB Development Award –
Jacob Thompson is the winner of this year’s Development Award. Thompson came home to Jamaica from England in the early 1970s and started a mission to bring rugby to the island that continues to this day. Thanks to Thompson, Jamaica now counts the sport amongst its social fabric.
Thompson played for Jamaica, coached a number of local teams and was appointed chief organiser for schoolboy rugby, a position he has retained up to now. He has been the chairman of Jamaica Rugby Union since 1999, and was appointed vice-President of the West Indies Rugby Union for 2005 to 2007. Earlier this year, he was selected as an executive committee member of the WIRU.
Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service –
This year’s winner is a great of Spanish rugby, Jose Maria Epalza, who has contributed enormously to the sport in that country and beyond, both on and off the field.
Epalza continued to coach and captain his club in Madrid, Club de Rugby Cisneros, at the same time as representing his country, whom he turned out for a total of 38 times, including captain on a number of occasions.
He went on to coach the national side between 1986 and 1990 before concentrating on rugby administration. From 1992 to 1996, he was vice-President and technical manager of the Spanish Rugby Union. In 1992 he was elected onto the European Rugby Federation (FIRA-AER) Board, becoming vice-President in 1996. From 1996 to 2005 he represented FIRA-AER as a member of the IRB executive committee.
IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service –
Dick Byres is this year’s recipient of the IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service. Having refereed 14 international matches, he was appointed as an IRB referee selector in 1997 when the merit-based panel was first formed and was the longest serving selector until his retirement in January of this year.
IRB Women’s Personality of the Year –
This year’s winner is Sarah Corrigan, who in April became the first female to referee at an IRB fifteens tournament outside the Women’s Rugby World Cup, when the Australian took charge of the IRB Under-19 World Championship match between Zimbabwe and Canada. The game was played at Queen’s University in Belfast.
This came on the back of her appearances at the IRB Women’s World Cup in 2005, culminating in the third place play-of between France and Canada.
IRB Under-19 Player of the Year –
Robert Fruean was the standout performer at this year’s IRB Under-19 World Championship in Ireland. His strong running and sidestep caused havoc amongst opponents’ defences, including three tries against Wales in New Zealand’s opening match on their way to the title.
In 2006 he was a member of the New Zealand Schools side and he also represented Wellington Under-18s in 2005 and 2006.
Spirit of Rugby Award –
For many, having a missing leg would end all thoughts of athletic endeavour. For Nicolas Pueta, however, it has provided no such obstacle. Pueta has a passion for rugby that sees him play flanker for St. Andrew’s FP in Argentina. It is a heady example of triumph over adversity and mind, or spirit, over body.
IRPA Try of the Year –
Takudzwa Ngwenya (USA) – Not many people can claim to be quicker than Bryan Habana, but USA’s Takudzwa Ngwenya proved he had the edge by jinking his way round and past the IRB Player of the Year to round off a magnificent American try against South Africa in their World Cup pool match in Montpellier on September 30.
It began deep in the USA 22, when flanker Todd Clever intercepted a South African pass. Three passes later the ball reached Ngwenya just inside his own half. As Habana came across to make the tackle, Ngwenya checked, sidestepped and powered round the South African wing to dash in at the right corner and touch down near the posts.
IRPA Special Merit Award –
Fabien Pelous is one France’s greatest players, having played 118 times for his country, including 42 games as captain. Pelous made his international debut against Romania in 1995 and his final appearance in the recent World Cup semi-final against England. He is also a pivotal member of the highly-successful Toulouse club, captaining the side to the Heineken Cup title in 2005.