DUNCAN JOHNSTONE - Stuff
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has been named the International Rugby Board's player of the year.
The 29-year-old flanker is the first player to receive the prestigious accolade three times, as well as in consecutive years, cementing his position as one of the greats of the game.
The accolade completes a hat-trick of IRB Awards for New Zealand with the All Blacks named IRB Team of the Year 2010 in association with Emirates Airline and Graham Henry unveiled as IRB Coach of the Year for a record fourth time.
Henry has previously been named IRB Coach of the Year in 2005, 2006 and 2008 and New Zealand are named IRB Team of the Year for the fourth time in six years.
McCaw faced stiff competition for the Player of the Year Award with teammate Mils Muliaina, South Africa's Victor Matfield, Imanol Harinordoquy from France and rising young Australia stars David Pocock and Kurtley Beale all performing superbly during the year.
However, it was McCaw, who captained the world's number one ranked team to a record of 13 wins from 14 matches during 2010, including a Tri-Nations title and an unbeaten end of year tour to Europe, that consistently impressed the IRB's awards panel with some outstanding performances to cement his stature as one of rugby's great leaders.
"It's been a good year and everyone has made a huge effort, from the coaches right through all the players. It's been a lot of fun as well to work with quality players, and I just love playing rugby and especially international rugby," said McCaw, along with Muliaina now the most capped All Black of all time.
"This award is very special but wouldn't happen without an exceptional team who are good mates, and that's something I am equally proud of."
IRB Coach of the Year Graham Henry added: "I am very proud to be awarded this honour again. The award reflects the hard work of the team, and I am delighted the All Blacks have also been named IRB Team of the Year."
"It is also an award for team manager Darren Shand who does a fabulous job, and for the exceptional coaching team who work with me. I am extremely fortunate to have a group of guys who are exceptionally good at what they do."
"Richie McCaw is a phenomenal captain. He just gets better and better the more he does it and the team now is a very experienced side with him and Mils on 94 caps each, and nine players in the side with more than 50 caps," added Henry.
The IRB Player of the Year Award is selected by the IRB Awards independent panel of judges, comprising former internationals with over 500 Test caps between them. Will Greenwood, Gavin Hastings, Raphaël Ibanez, Francois Pienaar, Agustín Pichot, Scott Quinnell, Tana Umaga, Paul Wallace and convenor John Eales watched over 78 hours of action from 59 matches, awarding points to the three players they thought stood out in each match.
"Rugby is fortunate to have a player and person of the calibre of Richie McCaw. He is an outstanding captain, a world class player and a role model for our sport. In winning the Award three times, Richie has truly cemented his place right up there amongst some of the greats," said Eales.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset added: "It has been a compelling year of international Rugby as we count down to what promises to be a special Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand."
"The All Blacks have consistently performed to the highest standards this year, they are number one in the IRB World Rankings and have lost just one match in 2010. Richie McCaw, Graham Henry and the entire New Zealand team are deserving recipients of these prestigious awards."
The accolades cap a phenomenal year for New Zealand Rugby with Julian Savea winning the IRB Junior Player of the Year in June and Carla Hohepa named IRB Women's Personality of the Year in September after a magnificent Women's Rugby World Cup.
The other IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline to be presented in 2010 include Samoa's Mikaele Pesamino as the IRB Sevens Player of the Year in May, IRB Development Award winner Brian O'Shea in October and Colin High, who received as the IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service last month. The Spirit of Rugby Award was presented on Saturday to Virreyes Rugby Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina.