- Rugby Players' Association Awards 2016
- 2016 winners revealed at Battersea Evolution
The Rugby Players' Association Awards took place at Battersea Evolution on Wednesday evening to celebrate the achievements of English Rugby. There were 12 prizes awarded to players from all corners of the sport and they are as follows:
The Old Mutual Wealth England Player of the Year - Billy Vunipola
Billy Vunipola lit up the RBS 6 Nations by winning three Man of the Match awards from five games for his powerful ball carrying and hard, explosive charges from No 8. Vunipola was a key member of England’s Grand Slam victory and has announced himself on the international stage as a world-class back row forward.
RPA Players' Player of the Year - George Smith
Australia legend George Smith joined Wasps at the start of the season and his contribution at open-side flanker has been immense. His partnership in the back row with James Haskell and Nathan Hughes has helped Wasps become one of Europe’s top clubs. The 35 year-old has 111 Australia caps and played for clubs all around the world, which makes this award a special achievement for him.
“I’m an old man coming over here but I’ve really enjoyed the journey, it’s been fantastic,” said Smith.
“There is such a great bunch at Wasps and it’s great being involved with them. I really enjoy the contest, it’s been a great year for me. I didn’t think playing in the Premiership would be so much fun.”
RPA Blyth Spirit Award in association with Towergate Insurance - Henry Fraser
Henry, brother of Saracens back-row Will Fraser, damaged his spinal cord during a holiday to Portugal in 2009, which left him paralysed from the neck down at the age of 17.
A time lapse video of me mouth painting (start to finish).— Henry Fraser (@henryfraser0) May 10, 2016
I'm only physically able to use my mouth. pic.twitter.com/KrDemz6fV0
Since his accident Fraser has enjoyed great success as a motivational speaker, delivering his ‘Pushing Myself’ talk to a number of high profile businesses and sports teams, including Saracens and England Sevens.
“I'm absolutely honoured to receive this award," said Fraser. "To be selected to join a list with such amazing people on it, alongside Matt Hampson, someone who has constantly inspired me, is extremely overwhelming.”
RPA Special Merit Award - Charlie Hodgson
Charlie Hodgson has made himself an English rugby legend over the past decade with 38 England caps and 252 appearances in the Aviva Premiership making him the top points scorer in the history of the competition. His commitment to the sport has made him one of England’s most respected fly-halves and this achievement is thoroughly deserved.
LV= Young player of the year - Maro Itoje
Maro Itoje exploded onto the Premiership season with outstanding performances for Saracens which earned him a player of the month award and an England squad place for the RBS 6 Nations that won their first Grand Slam for 13 years. The 21 year-old’s technical ability and athleticism has made him one of England’s hottest prospects for the future.
“I’ve still got a big three weeks to go and hopefully we can do what we want to do,” said Itoje.
“It’s not a one man game, it a team effort and all the performances are as a team. We are looking good, team morale is high and hopefully we can put in a shift at the weekend.”
HSBC England Sevens Player of the Year - Dan Bibby
Bibby has excelled on the HSBC World Sevens Series this year despite picking up a shoulder injury towards the tail end of the season. He was part of the England squad that reached the Cup Final of the Dubai World Series event and he has represented England since 2014 and has his eyes firmly set on the Rio Olympics this Summer.
“I’m really lucky to do what I do,” said Bibby.
“It’s indescribable to think you’ll be sharing a platform with all those other sports at the Olympics. It’s getting closer and closer and becoming even more real.”
The O2 England Women's Player of the year - Sarah Hunter
England Women turned around last year’s disappointing fourth place in the Six Nations to finish second this year. Sarah Hunter has captained England to a new level and despite the disappointment of losing the Grand Slam in the final round against France, Hunter produced some outstanding performances. Her ball carrying and tackling set a bench mark for the rest of the competition and her determination to succeed promises more in the future.
“There is a huge investment from the RFU into women’s rugby a sevens and 15-a-side rugby,” said Hunter.
“It was frustrating not winning the Six Nations, but the strength in depth is growing all the time and hopefully we ca progress and go on to defend our World title.”
The Nine Feet Tall Personal Development Programme Award - Rob Hawkins
Rob Hawkins has represented Bath Rugby, Leicester Tigers and more recently Newcastle Falcons. The 33 year-old hooker announced his retirement from professional rugby for the end of this season. Hawkins has dedicated his time outside of rugby training to become a full time police officer.
“Everyone knows rugby does not last forever and retirement creeps up on you so a huge thanks to the RPA for their support,” said Hawkins.
Greene King IPA Championship player of the year - Jack Lam
Samoan international Lam has been inspiring for Bristol this season with his powerful work around the breakdown and intelligence in open play. The 28 year-old flanker joined Bristol in 2014 from the Hurricanes and has excelled under the influence of former England Head Coach Andy Robinson at Bristol over the past two seasons.
Congratulations to Jack Lam, David Lemi and new recruit Tusi Pisi, who are included in Samoa squad for summer tour. pic.twitter.com/tvjw4P1OX9— Bristol Rugby (@Bristol_RFC) May 10, 2016
RPA Hall of Fame Induction in association with KPMG - Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O’Driscoll is not only an Ireland legend, but one of the most iconic stars in the history of the sport. He is the second most capped international player of all time with 133 caps and he won three Champions Cup titles with Leinster, three RBS 6 Nations trophies including a Grand Slam in 2009 and won a British and Irish Lions series in 2013. There are few players in world rugby who deserve a lifetime achievement more than O’Driscoll.