The New Zealand Rugby Awards took place on Thursday in Auckland. As per usual, the ceremony takes place after the World Rugby showcase, which was held in Monaco at the end of November.
This allows the majority of the nominees to attend and avoids clashes with the rugby calendar.
There were big names missing from the nominees list of some of the major awards this year, however. Back-to-back World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett was not a nominee for the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Trophy for Player of the Year while Damian McKenzie, who set Super Rugby alight this year with his attacking brilliance, was not nominated for the Investec Super Rugby Player of the Year gong.
The other talking point was that in a first for New Zealand Rugby Black Ferns sevens captain and flanker in the 15-a-side game Sarah Goss was a nominee for the top player award. Her nomination was thoroughly deserved after being a standout player in both codes.
The two big winners from the night, however, were All Black second row Sam Whitelock and the Women’s World Cup-winning team, the Black Ferns.
Whitelock won the Investec Super Rugby Player of the Year after leading the Crusaders to the 2017 title. He then won the top individual award, beating Goss and Rieko Ioane.
Whitelock had a major workload this year and still managed to put on strong performances in the engine room for the Crusaders and All Blacks on a regular basis. He finished off a superb 2017 by captaining the All Blacks against Wales playing alongside his younger brother, Luke.
Goss was awarded the Women’s Player of the Year for her joint efforts in both sevens and 15s. The flanker was a key component in the Black Ferns’ success this year.
The 25-year-old, who had a 98 per cent tackle success rate in the World Cup, won ahead of World Women’s Player of the Year Portia Woodman.
The Black Ferns won the Adidas Team of the Year to add to their award at the World Rugby event while Glenn Moore took the top coaching award.
Their success can now be a catalyst in making women’s rugby grow. Their victory has also created a debate around whether or not there needs to be some form of professional game for women to aspire to in New Zealand.
They are a well-respected side and excellent role models for young girls wanting to play rugby.
The other major prize-winner on the night went to former All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith. He received the Steinlager Salver for his outstanding contribution to New Zealand rugby.
Smith played 17 Test matches for the All Blacks and was a successful coach for a number of years, including being involved in the 2011 and 2015 World Cup victories. This was fitting as he stepped down from coaching during the year.
Carlin Crossan, Pundit Arena