Springbok flank Schalk Burger was on Thursday named South African Rugby Player of the Year for the second time, while the Golden Lions picked up a hat trick of awards as their Currie Cup success was recognised at a glittering ceremony at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City.
Burger, 28, was rewarded for his striking form as he led the Stormers into the Super Rugby playoffs and then returned from a thumb injury to be arguably the outstanding Springbok at the Rugby World Cup.
The blond-haired loose forward’s win was added to the title he claimed in 2004. He becomes only the fifth player to win the title more than once, following in the footsteps of Naas Botha (who won it four times), Uli Schmidt, Bryan Habana and Fourie du Preez (who all won it twice).
He was voted as Player of the Year by South Africa’s accredited rugby media in competition with fellow nominees and Rugby World Cup Springbok team-mates Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie and Victor Matfield.
Burger’s award was the finale of a star-studded night during which 16 awards were won for rugby excellence across all age groups and competitions in 16 categories.
The Golden Lions scooped three awards after beating the Sharks in the Currie Cup final last weekend to win their first title since 1999. They were named Absa Team of the Year, their coach, John Mitchell, is the Absa Coach of the Year and their captain, Josh Strauss, was named Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year.
Springbok fullback Pat Lambie, 21, was named the Absa Young Player of the Year, building on the fine impression he made in his debut season of 2010 and ending the year as the incumbent Springbok fullback. SA Under-20 captain Arno Botha is the SA Under-20 Player of the Year after some sterling performances at the Junior World Championships in Italy earlier this year.
Cecil Afrika, who was recently named the World Sevens Player of the Year after he topped both the top points and try scoring lists during the 2010/11 HSBC Sevens World Series, walked away with the award for Springbok Sevens Player of the Year.
The SARPA Players’ Player of the Year Award went to Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis, while the SuperSport Try of the Year was awarded to Springbok Sevens flyer Sibusiso Sithole for his tournament-winning score in the final of the Edinburgh Sevens against Australia.
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) also paid tribute to two retiring Springboks legends. Both John Smit, who has already left South African to take up a contract with English club Saracens, and Victor Matfield played their last Test for the Boks in the quarter-finals at the Rugby World Cup.
There were also rewards for Cheetahs scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius (Super Rugby Player of the Year), Boland Cavaliers flyhalf Elgar Watts (Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year) and Western Province flyhalf Lionel Cronje (Vodacom Cup Player of the Year).
Oregan Hoskins, President of SARU, said that the 2011 season was one of the more significant and satisfying seasons in recent years.
“On-field success of our national and provincial teams will always be of paramount importance, but I believe we have enjoyed a special year in the history of our rugby – perhaps a watershed year,” said Hoskins.
“That’s because our Springbok team has been embraced by all South Africans in a way I have never experienced before. 2011 was the year that fans from all backgrounds stood behind the Boks from the moment the squad was announced. In the past, that kind of affection was dependent on the delivery of a trophy.”
The winners and finalists (where applicable) in all the categories are:
SARU Rugby Player of the Year
Winner: Schalk Burger
Finalists: Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Victor Matfield.
Absa Young Player of the Year
Winner: Pat Lambie
Finalists Johan Goosen, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute.
Absa Team of the Year
Winner: Golden Lions
Finalists: Boland Cavaliers, Springbok Sevens, Stormers, University of Cape Town.
Absa Coach of the Year
Winner: John Mitchell (Golden Lions)
Finalists: Allister Coetzee ( Stormers and Western Province), Eugene Eloff (Boland Cavaliers), John Plumtree (the Sharks), Paul Treu (Springbok Sevens).
Super Rugby Player of the Year
Winner: Sarel Pretorius (Cheetahs)
Finalists: Gio Aplon (Stormers), Schalk Burger (Stormers), Bismarck du Plessis (the Sharks), Duane Vermeulen (Stormers).
Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year
Winner: Josh Strauss (MTN Golden Lions)
Finalists: Johan Goosen (Toyota FS Cheetahs), Elton Jantjies (MTN Golden Lions), Frederic Michalak (The Sharks), Jaco Taute (MTN Golden Lions).
Absa Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year
Winner: Elgar Watts (Boland Cavaliers)
Finalists: Bolla Conradie (Boland Cavaliers), Danwel Demas (Boland Cavaliers), Willie le Roux (Boland Cavaliers), Luke Watson (EP Kings).
Vodacom Cup Player of the Year
Winner: Lionel Cronje (WP)
Finalists: Marnitz Boshoff (Blue Bulls), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks XV), JJ Engelbrecht (WP), Juan Imhoff (Pampas XV).
SARPA Players’ Player of the Year: Bismarck du Plessis
Springbok Sevens Player of the Year: Cecil Afrika
Supersport Try of the Year
Winner: Sibusiso Sithole (Springbok Sevens vs Australia in the final of the Edinburgh Sevens)
Finalists: Gio Aplon (DHL Stormers vs Chiefs in Hamilton), Lwazi Mvovo (The Sharks vs Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein), Sarel Pretorius (first try for Toyota Cheetahs vs Blues in Whangarei and first try vs Brumbies in Bloemfontein), Jaco Taute (MTN Golden Lions v The Sharks in Johannesburg, Absa Currie Cup final).
SA Under-20 Player of the Year: Arno Botha
Coca-Cola Craven Week Player of the Tournament: Jan Serfontein (Free State)
Marriott Referee Award: Craig Joubert
SARU National Club Championship Player of the Tournament: Justin Wheeler (University of Johannesburg)