Ultimate peer recognition for Am, Davids and Roos
In a landmark moment for professional rugby players in South Africa, three players have been recognised by their peers with Players’ Player of the Year awards.
Since its inception in 2005*, the South African Players’ Player of the Year has been chosen by the players from predominantly the men’s fifteens game. This year, members of MyPlayers decided to make the circle bigger, introducing three categories: Men’s Fifteens, Men’s Sevens, and Women.
Players had a week to vote for their favourites, and the 2022 recipients of the professional game’s most sought-after peer-to-peer accolades are:
- Men’s Fifteens Players’ Player of the Year: LUKHANYO AM (other nominees: Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Evan Roos, Damian Willemse)
- Men’s Sevens Players’ Player of the Year: ZAIN DAVIDS (other nominees: Selvyn Davids, JC Pretorius)
- Women Players’ Player of the Year: NADINE ROOS (other nominees: Ayanda Malinga, Aphiwe Ngwevu, Sizophila Solontsi)
Eugene Henning, CEO of MyPlayers, remarked: “Following the 2021 MyPlayers Awards, several players approached us about the format and categories of the annual player-led honours. It was felt that the Blitzboks and Bok Women, sevens and fifteens, didn’t have a fair chance to be recognised beyond categories such as Best off the Bench, Backline Player or Most Improved Player of the Year. Subsequently, we retired almost all existing categories and introduced only three Players’ Player of the Year awards. By doing this, the players are acknowledging the status and growth of South African rugby beyond the men’s fifteens game.”
Henning congratulated the three recipients: “In 2020 and 2021, the players named Lukhanyo as the Best Defender of the Year, but there is so much more to his game than his defensive abilities. Despite suffering an injury against the Wallabies in Sydney, his fellow players still cast the vast majority of votes in his favour, and him being named Men’s Fifteens Players’ Player of the Year comes as no surprise.
“Zain was included in the HSBC Dream Team following the 2022 World Rugby Sevens Series during which he scored 13 tries, made 68 carries, 18 line breaks and 91 tackles. What the Men’s Sevens Players’ Player of the Year Award shows is that he is also a magnificent team player, and I don’t think there can be a better way to conclude one’s season than receiving this sort of recognition from your teammates.
“Nadine was nominated in the most tightly contested category of the three, and I think that says something about the team spirit and effort of the Bok Women to elevate the game to a different standard, over the past two years in particular. Nadine is a member of both the national fifteens and sevens squads, and her performances at the recent Sevens World Cup in Cape Town underscored her class as a player, while this reward illustrates how highly her teammates regard her as a player and person. By being named the first Women Players’ Player of the Year, she’s breaking new ground for women’s rugby in South Africa, and her example will inspire many more girls to follow in her footsteps.”
Besides receiving identical trophies, the three recipients are also rewarded with a family and/or friends getaway from The Safari Guys. More details on these prizes will be communicated to the three recipients and on social media.
Being named Men’s Fifteens Players’ Player of the Year really means a lot to me. It remains a special award to receive, and what makes it great is that it was voted for by my teammates and fellow players.
I am honoured. This has really been an amazing season for me. I had a good start, and I finished it on a high as well before I got injured. Throughout, I felt in good form, and importantly, I felt confident every second I was on the field. For the season that lies ahead, I really hope to take up where I left off.
I always strive to set an example for my teammates, whether that’s on or off the playing field. On a personal level, this recognition means the world to me. Yes, I play every game as if it’s my last, but I can only hope that my fellow Blitzboks reap the rewards of my efforts. Being named Men’s Sevens Players’ Player of the Year confirms that I am contributing to our team’s success.
In that regard, I must acknowledge the support structures and people I have around me. This enables me to convert individual effort into strong team performances, and while this is an individual award, it does belong to the team as well.
This is the first year members of MyPlayers were given the opportunity to nominate and vote for a Men’s Sevens Players’ Player of the Year, and I think this is a fairer reflection of the South African rugby landscape. I sincerely believe sevens plays a massive role in this country and the team has worked incredibly hard over many years to attain the status sevens now enjoys here and abroad. Just as with fifteens players, we are also goal-driven individuals, and having an accolade such us this rewards players for working hard, playing to inspire others, and chasing our individual and collective goals.
I live by the mantra, “Work hard in silence, and let success make the noise”. When I reflect on what it means to me to be named as the first Women Players’ Player of the Year, I have to reflect on the people I spend most of my time with – my teammates. In the off-season, we run the most, work the hardest, and those are the times when we have to push and pull each other through tough moments in pursuit of our ultimate goals. It’s also when players really get to know one another; how hard someone is willing to work and what they stand for.
My teammates know me as someone who always works incredibly hard. I’m tough in training and in matches, and I value a collaborative environment where individuals succeed because of the team. I attach tremendous value to this accolade because it means my contributions are being seen and felt. I want to be known as someone who is always professional and whose work ethic and personality contribute to the wellbeing of the team. Being voted Players’ Player of the Year by them and knowing that they believe in me is truly special. In team sports, having the backing of one’s teammates is a major factor in an individual’s ability to perform.
The introduction of the Women Players’ Player of the Year category is a significant moment for women’s rugby in general. I recall a conversation we had in the team a while back: We wondered when women were going to be given the opportunity to nominate and vote for players in similar categories to those the men have had for quite some time. Now, we can finally say this reward is an acknowledgement of the growth in women’s rugby in South Africa, especially during the last two years.
Players are being seen, and this will undoubtedly contribute to further growth of the national sevens and fifteens women’s teams. Had the teams not developed, there wouldn’t have been players to nominate. But there’s a healthy rivalry among players in both squads, and that allows us to improve our individual and team standards to a level where recognising players becomes a natural progression in the game. This award will serve as an incentive for every player to work even harder.
*Previous recipients of the Men’s Fifteens Players’ Players of the Year award: John Smit (2005), Kabamba Floors (2006), Willem de Waal (2007), Jean de Villiers (2008), Morné Steyn (2009), Gio Aplon (2010), Bismarck du Plessis (2011), JP Pietersen (2012), Willie le Roux (2013), Duane Vermeulen (2014), Jaco Kriel (2015), Jean-Luc du Preez (2016), Siya Kolisi (2017), Malcolm Marx (2018), Pieter-Steph du Toit (2019), Duane Vermeulen (2020), Cheslin Kolbe (2021).
England side to face Ireland in Six Nations
Captain Owen Farrell will start at fly half, Manu Tuilagi returns to the side at inside centre with Henry Slade at outside centre. There is a first England start for Henry Arundell on the left wing, Anthony Watson is at right wing, and Freddie Steward is full back.
- Kick off at Aviva Stadium is 5pm
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In the forward pack Lewis Ludlam is named vice-captain and is flanker alongside Jack Willis. Alex Dombrandt is at No. 8. In the same front row that has started each game of the championship, vice-captain Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler are at prop and Jamie George is at hooker. David Ribbans starts at lock with Maro Itoje.
Dan Cole is in line to make his 100th appearance for England after being named as replacement. Cole made his England debut in the Six Nations in February 2010. He has gone on to play in three Rugby World Cups and has won three Guinness Six Nations titles.
Nick Isiekwe and Joe Marchant return to the bench, along with Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Ben Curry, Alex Mitchell and Marcus Smith.
“We travel to Dublin to face an Ireland team on Saturday that has the chance to secure a Grand Slam Championship victory at home for the first time” said Borthwick.
“We know that after the bitter disappointment of the display against an exceptional France team last week, we will have to be much improved to meet the challenge of playing the side presently ranked number one in the world.
“However, I have witnessed an England squad determined to make amends for the defeat at Twickenham, and I am confident that the team announced today will once again want to show the sort of resilience and attitude that brought us victory in Wales.”
Team to face Ireland
15. Freddie Steward
14. Anthony Watson
13. Henry Slade
12. Manu Tuilagi
11. Henry Arundell
10. Owen Farrell (C)
1. Ellis Genge (VC)
2. Jamie George
4. Maro Itoje
6. Lewis Ludlam (VC)
7. Jack Willis
16. Jack Walker
17. Mako Vunipola
18. Dan Cole
19. Nick Isiekwe
20. Ben Curry
21. Alex Mitchell
22. Marcus Smith
23. Joe Marchant
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*You can find a full list of England Rugby’s official partners at englandrugby.com/partners.
Ireland Squad Named For Guinness Six Nations Super Saturday
Ireland will take on England at a sold-out Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening (Kick-off 5pm) for the chance to claim the Guinness Six Nations Championship title, the Triple Crown and a fourth Men’s Grand Slam title.
World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier will win his 50th cap on Saturday. He lines out in an unchanged back row as Caelan Doris is named to start alongside him and Peter O’Mahony.
In the front row, Dan Sheehan has been passed fit and will start with Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong on either side of the scrum. Rob Herring comes in on the bench in place of Ronan Kelleher.
Ryan Baird, who came on for the injured Iain Henderson in Scotland, will partner James Ryan in the second row with Kieran Treadwell named in the replacements.
Captain Johnny Sexton will be partnered at half-back by Jamison Gibson Park and Robbie Henshaw comes into the centre to play alongside Bundee Aki. The back three of Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen and James Lowe start for a fifth consecutive Six Nations fixture.
Sexton equalled Ronan O’Gara’s Six Nations Championship all-time points scorer record (557 points) against Scotland and can become the outright top points scorer against England this weekend.
Jimmy O’Brien come into the match day 23 to join Cian Healy, Tom O’Toole, Jack Conan, Conor Murray and Ross Byrne who all featured last weekend in Murrayfield.
Ireland’s final game of the Championship will be broadcast live on VIRGIN and ITV television and RTE and BBCNI radio.
IRELAND Team (v England, 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Saturday 18th March, 2023, KO 17.00 (IST))
15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 29 caps
14. Mack Hansen (Connacht/Corinthians) 13 caps
13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 61 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 45 caps
11. James Lowe (Leinster) 19 caps
10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 112 caps (c)
9. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 24 caps
1. Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 52 caps
2. Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 16 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 64 caps
4. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 10 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 52 caps
6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 93 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 49 caps
8. Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 27 caps
16. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 33 caps
17. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 122 caps
18. Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 8 caps
19. Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 10 caps
20. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 37 caps
21. Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 104 caps
22. Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 18 caps
23. Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster/Naas) 4 caps
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Wales name much changed team for France
Head coach Warren Gatland has named his Wales senior men’s XV for the final round Guinness Six Nations match against France this Saturday at the Stade de France in Paris (KO 2.45pm GMT live on ITV and S4C).
No 8 Taulupe Faletau will win his 100th Wales cap having made his debut against the Barbarians in June 2011 and won his 50th cap against Fiji at Rugby World Cup 2015.
Dillon Lewis is in line to make his 50th senior international appearance for Wales from the bench. George North – also in the Wales starting line-up that faced the Barbarians when Faletau made his debut – partners Nick Tompkins in the Wales midfield.
Louis Rees-Zammit makes his third start for Wales at full back. Rio Dyer and Josh Adams are selected on the wings.
Dan Biggar returns from injury at fly half. Rhys Webb, who made his first start in this year’s Championship against Italy, continues at scrum half.
There are two changes to the forward pack that started last weekend’s outing at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Alun Wyn Jones is named in the second row, while Aaron Wainwright will make his first appearance this Six Nations coming in at blind-side flanker. Jac Morgan has been ruled out with an ankle injury picked up in training.
Among the Wales replacements Bradley Roberts and Gareth Thomas join Lewis in providing the front row cover.
Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell are the other forwards in the match day 23. Leigh Halfpenny is named one of the Wales replacement backs, along with Tomos Williams and Owen Williams.
Gatland said: “Last weekend was really important for us getting a win in the Six Nations and building a bit of confidence. It was a step in the right direction but there’s still lots for us to work on.
“We’ve worked hard on a few things in terms of tidying some of the defensive lapses that we’ve made and getting those things right. We’re still working hard on our attack.
“I think France last weekend put in probably one of the best performances seen in a long, long time. They’re the number two team in the world. They bring a really physical approach to the way they play and they’ve tended to start well.
“So that’s the important thing. We’ve got to go out there and start well, make sure we’re in that arm wrestle with them and give ourselves that opportunity.
“They’re a team that kick the ball a lot, so we’ve also got to make sure that our backfield is right and we’ve got to be good in the air.”
On Faletau reaching 100 caps for Wales Gatland added: “Toby has been a fantastic servant for Welsh rugby. Even though he’s reaching 100 caps he’s still pretty quiet, but he’s incredibly well respected by the players for what he’s achieved.
“I remember in the early years he was just a constant and he became absolutely world class in terms of his performances.
“There’s a lot of things that people don’t see in terms of his ability to read the game – he’ll run support lines that people don’t see. You see that when you’re going back through the videos and there have been times where he’s been on the end of a pass and scored tries. We saw that last week, Rhys Webb makes a break and Toby scores a try.
“Getting 100 caps is a great recognition for what he’s achieved in the game. It’s fantastic for him and his family and hopefully we can go out there and give him a really good performance and something for him to remember.”
Wales senior men’s XV to play France in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 18 March KO 2.45pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C
15 Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby – 24 caps)
14 Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 48 caps)
13 George North (Ospreys – 112 caps)
12 Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 26 caps)
11 Rio Dyer (Dragons – 6 caps)
10 Dan Biggar (Toulon – 106 caps)
9 Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 39 caps);
1 Wyn Jones (Scarlets – 47 caps)
2 Ken Owens (Scarlets – 90 caps) CAPT
3 Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 70 caps)
4 Adam Beard (Ospreys – 45 caps)
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – 157 caps)
6 Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 36 caps)
7 Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 92 caps)
8 Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 99 caps)
16 Bradley Roberts (Dragons – 4 caps)
17 Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 20 caps)
18 Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 49 caps)
19 Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 5 caps)
20 Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 8 caps)
21 Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 44 caps)
22 Owen Williams (Ospreys – 6 caps)
23 Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets – 98 caps)
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