Big names in mix for Player of the Year honour
November 16, 2009
Ireland and Lions star Jamie Heaslip is amongst those for the IRB Player of the Year award © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions stars Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip and Tom Croft are set to renew their rivalry with South Africa's Fourie du Preez and Frans Steyn in the battle for the International Rugby Board Player of the Year award.
The quintet join Australia's Matt Giteau and New Zealand's Richie McCaw on the shortlist for the prestigious honour that will be announced along with the IRB Coach of the Year and IRB Team of the Year at the conclusion of the November Tests.
O'Driscoll will be favourite for the honour having steered Ireland to a long-awaited Six Nations Grand Slam and Leinster to Heineken Cup glory earlier this year before taking a starring role on the British & Irish Lions' tour of South Africa in the summer. His stand-out year continued this weekend a last-gasp try to snatch a draw for the Irish in their clash with Australia at Croke Park - his 100th Test appearance.
He is set to face stiff competition in the form of Springboks scrum-half Du Preez - widely considered the form player in 2009. The Bulls' No.9 shared in his side's Super 14 success on the domestic stage before inspiring the Springboks' hard-earnt series victory against the Lions.
Following the closest vote in the award's history, it was decided to extend the list from its traditional number of five players to seven with the southern hemisphere claiming four nominations to their northern rivals' three.
"The IRB Player of the Year Award is the ultimate accolade for a player and takes into account performances in all internationals played during the year, including the Six Nations, British & Irish Lions Test Series, Tri Nations and the June and November Tests," said IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset.
"The list of past winners includes the iconic names of the decade - Jonny Wilkinson, Schalk Burger, Richie McCaw, Fabien Galthié, Dan Carter, Bryan Habana and Keith Wood have all been worthy recipients of the Award. Richie McCaw could become the first player to receive the accolade twice."
The nominees were selected by the IRB Awards independent panel of judges, comprising former internationals with over 500 Test caps between them. Will Greenwood, Gavin Hastings, Raphaël Ibanez, Francois Pienaar, Agustin Pichot, Scott Quinnell, Tana Umaga, Paul Wallace and convenor John Eales watched over 60 hours of action from 46 matches, awarding points to the three players they thought stood out in each match.
"Now that the shortlist has been selected the panel will reconvene at the completion of the November Tests when the IRB Player of the Year will be selected. The announcement will be made at the conclusion of the final weekend of matches," added Lapasset.
The Player of the Year Award is the sixth of the 13 coveted IRB Awards to be presented in 2009. In May, England captain Ollie Phillips was named IRB Sevens Player of the Year, while New Zealand captain Aaron Cruden was named IRB Junior Player of the Year in June. Australia's Debby Hodgkinson was named IRB Women's Personality of the Year in August and L'Aquilla Rugby Club received the Spirit of Rugby Award in September. This month, Francis Palmade received the IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service.