The International Rugby Players’ Association’s (IRPA) Players’ Player of the Year Award, as voted by the world’s top international players, has boiled down to a vote-off between Wales and British and Irish Lions star Leigh Halfpenny, and All Black duo, Ben Smith and Kieran Read.
Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth, who was named on the five-man shortlist for the IRB Player of the Year award, didn’t make the cut for the IRPA award.
Fullback Halfpenny was a standout performer for Six Nations champions Wales, eventually being named Player of the Tournament.
Halfpenny played in all three Tests on the Lions tour of Australia, breaking the Lions’ point-scoring record (previously held by Neil Jenkins) and being crowned Player of the Series.
Read and Smith have been similarly outstanding during New Zealand’s unbeaten run through the calendar year.
No 8 Read scored six tries in 13 Tests and took over the captaincy of the side in the six internationals Richie McCaw was unavailable for.
Outside back Smith proved a revelation, scoring 11 tries in 14 games, 10 of them on the wing before switching to centre to fill the vacancy left by namesake Conrad.
Smith has also been shortlisted for the IRPA Newcomer of the Year Award, alongside barn-storming countryman Charles Piutau, and Australian flyer Israel Folau.
Halfpenny said it was a huge honour to be included on a shortlist chosen by his peers and fellow professionals.
“I’m thrilled, to be honest,” he said. “There are awards and there are awards, but to be recognised by the people you play against week-in, week-out – well, that’s about as good as it gets.”
Smith was delighted to be a finalist in two categories.
“I’ve really enjoyed the year and this just tops it all off, really,” he said. “The awards are a fantastic initiative and to be named as a finalist in two categories feels pretty special.”
The winner of the IRPA Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year awards will be announced next week, along with winners of the Players’ World XV of the Year and Team of the Year categories.
Also to be announced will be the IRPA Fans’ Player and World XV of the Year awards.
All fans (rugby enthusiasts, players, officials – even referees) need to do is to go to www.ultimaterugby.com, download the mobile app and follow the voting instructions contained within.
IRPA Players’ Player of the Year Award shortlist:
Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Kieran Read (NZ), Ben Smith (NZ)
IRPA Players’ Newcomer of the Year Award shortlist:
Israel Folau (Australia), Ben Smith (NZ), Charles Piutau (NZ)