Australia and Waratahs star Israel Folau has won a record third John Eales Medal-awarded to the Australian player of the year, report The Sydney Morning Herald.
The 28-year-old full-back who has scored a sensational 12 tries in ten Tests this year, held off the challenge of Kurtley Beale to win the prestigious award during a ceremony held at Randwick Racecourse.
It was the third time in five years that he had won the award and saw him eclipse stellar names such as current skipper Michael Hooper, Nathan Sharpe and George Smith, who have each won the award on two occasions.
Folau who only started playing Union in 2013 having enjoyed a stellar career in Rugby League and a one year spell in Aussie Rules, has touched down 32 times in 62 Tests since his Wallaby debut against the British and Irish Lions in June of the same year.
He picked up 260 votes from his Australia teammates, who all vote on a 3-2-1 basis at the end of each test match. The voting period encompassed the opening Test of their spring tour last year against Wales which saw them inflict a 32-8 defeat on the hosts and ended with their thrilling 23-18 win over New Zealand last weekend.
After failing to touch down during that four-Test tour, he has been scoring for fun this year, with his latest effort coming last weekend during his sides’ first win over the All Blacks since 2015.
Speaking about the award, Folau expressed his surprise to have won it, with the modest star describing how ‘special’ it was to receive it and to be recognised by his teammates, adding that he was ‘humbled’ by the accolade,
“To be honest, I didn’t expect it. Hoops (Michael Hooper) is always a standout for me and he does all the hard work. I’m a little bit lucky in the sense that KB (Kurtley Beale) didn’t participate in the spring tour.
“It’s been special to receive this award and be recognized by the guys you go out with and play alongside. That’s something I’m humbled by. You can’t really describe it in words”.
Only five tries short of ex-Japan winger Daisuke Ohata (2002) and ex-All Blacks flyer Joe Rokocoko’s (2003) joint-record of 17 touchdowns in a year, ‘Izzy’ as he is affectionately known, will not have the opportunity to equal the pair’s feat.
With an eye on the 2019 World Cup, Australia head coach Michael Cheika announced that one of his prize assets would not be a part of his team’s end of season tour which sees them take on Japan, Wales, England and Scotland next month, in order to take a break. He added that he would return early next year, in time for his franchise’s next Super Rugby campaign which begins in February.
One of the world’s most dangerous attacking weapons who is consistently excellent, the award is richly deserved for one of rugby’s biggest entertainers. Japan, Wales, England and Scotland will be breathing a collective sigh of relief that he won’t be playing against them next month.