Drawing to a close what has been a historic year for Irish Rugby, CJ Stander has been named the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year at the annual Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Awards hosted in the Guinness Storehouse tonight.
CJ Stander, accompanied by his wife Jean-Marié, received a standing ovation when he was honoured at the gala awards evening hosted by Oliver Loomes and Rory Sheridan of Guinness, RTE’s Damien O’Meara and Chairman of the Rugby Writers of Ireland, Gerry Thornley.
Sheridan, Head of Sponsorship for Diageo (Europe), said: “Guinness has a long, proud heritage with Irish rugby and we are committed to supporting the game that embodies grit, determination and extraordinary passion. 2016 has been a year that brought us incredible highs, and memories that will stay with us for generations.
“We witnessed some outstanding successes, not only on the international stage but also at provincial and club level. Guinness is once again honoured to be a part of this evening’s celebrations having partnered with the Rugby Writers of Ireland, helping them to host these awards each year. The awards provide us with an opportunity to give back to those that have truly inspired us, and I dare say, brought us to tears of joy in recent months.”
Stander, the Munster and Ireland back rower, was delighted to receive the accolade which was voted for by the Irish rugby media. “It’s an honour to be voted as the Guinness Rugby Writers Player of the Year. It’s good to get (the recognition),” he said.
“I think when you’re a younger boy you go through a stage where you want to get a lot of pats on the back but when you get older and you get into a team you just want to perform for all the boys and for the team to help them win. That’s really my biggest drive.
“It’s been a great year, an unbelievable last three years, and I’ve worked hard to get to the place where I am now. The biggest thing for me now is to drive on from there and not settle or be part of the furniture. You always have to push on and create something new.
“So that’s a big drive for me not to think I’ve done enough. I just want to keep on performing for the team, that’s important for me, and lead a few teams.”
The Dave Guiney Team of the Year went to Connacht after an outstanding season, culminating in an against-all-odds title win in the GUINNESS PRO12. A truly remarkable achievement from Pat Lam and his squad.
Sene Naoupu was chosen as the Women’s Player of the Year after an impressive campaign in the centre for the Ireland Women. The hard-hitting back plays an integral role in the Women’s national teams at both Sevens and 15s.
On receiving the award, Naoupu, who is away this week in Dubai with the Ireland Women’s Sevens Development squad, said: “I am completely shocked, humbled and grateful to be receiving this prestigious Rugby Writers of Ireland award. It is an honour to play for our nation, let alone receive something like this on behalf of the team.”
Clontarf were voted the Club of the Year after an impressive season at all levels, culminating in the Ulster Bank League title, edging out Cork Constitution in a seven-try thriller to lift the trophy for the second time in three years.
The Tom Rooney award was awarded to Tony Smeeth, who is in his 18th season with Dublin University FC. He came to the club in 1998 following three years as senior coach at Blackrock College RFC. Over his time with Trinity, he has completely professionalised the rugby set-up to bring Freshers and Under-20s through to being strong 1st XV team players.
He has developed a high performance model, with conditioning coaches, nutrition and dietary advice, physiotherapy back-up and a different culture and balance towards discipline, study, play, sleep and enjoying life.
There were also two players inducted into the Hall of Fame on the night. Phil Orr was capped 58 times for Ireland and was part of the teams that won Triple Crowns in 1982 and 1985. His international career spanned 12 seasons. He toured with the Lions to New Zealand in 1977 and then again in 1980. During this time, he became renowned as one of the toughest forwards of his generation.
Tony Ward won 19 caps for Ireland between 1978 and 1987 along with one cap for the Lions. During his career as an Ireland international, he scored 113 points (29 penalties, 7 conversions and 4 drop goals) including 38 points alone during the 1978 Five Nations Championship. Ward was a part of the legendary Munster side that beat New Zealand at Thomond Park on October 31, 1978, scoring two drop goals and a conversion.