Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - In a move that will stun many South African rugby fans, New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence has been nominated as his country’s Referee of the year.
Lawrence is one of three nominees for the award, which forms part of the Steinlager Rugby Awards to take place in Auckland on 1 December.
While the list of nominees is understandably overshadowed by the All Blacks and their Rugby World Cup victory, it was Lawrence’s nomination that will raise eyebrows in these parts, especially after his handling of the World Cup quarterfinal between the Springboks and Wallabies.
Many South African rugby fans were seething after Lawrence allowed Australia and in particular David Pocock free reign at the breakdown, and he was blamed for the Boks defeat and early exit from the competition in the quarters.
Lawrence is nominated for the award with former player Glen Jackson, who only hung up his boots two years ago and New Zealand’s top female referee Nicky Inwood, making him outright favourite to win the award.
Lawrence was also recently “rested” for six months by the IRB when the Six Nations refereeing appointments were announced and wasn’t involved in the Rugby World Cup semifinals and final, ostensibly because of his performance in the quarterfinal of the tournament.
Understandably the All Blacks are the dominant factor in the awards ceremony, with the victorious All Blacks team, individual stars of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2011 squad and winning coach Graham Henry dominating six of the 13 award categories.
In the main category, the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year will be hotly contested between All Black stars Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino, both finalists in the IRB’s Player of the Year award, and captain Richie McCaw.
The RWC-winning All Blacks will face the biggest challenge for the adidas Team of the Year Award from Investec Super Rugby finalists the Crusaders, who played their entire season away from home after the devastation of the Canterbury earthquakes. Other nominees are ITM Cup champions Canterbury and the HSBC World Series champions the New Zealand Sevens team.
Graham Henry, who last week announced he was standing down as All Blacks coach after directing the side to their RWC victory and winning the IRB Coach of the Year title, is a nominee for the New Zealand Rugby Coach of the Year Award. He is joined by Sevens maestro Gordon Tietjens and four-time national provincial championship winning Canterbury coach Rob Penney.
Three members of the 2011 All Blacks also feature in the Investec Super Rugby Player of the Year. Blues captain and hooker Keven Mealamu, Highlanders loose forward Adam Thomson and Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett are all in contention.
All Blacks first five-eighth Aaron Cruden is up against Canterbury loose forward Nasi Manu and Taranaki openside flanker Scott Waldrom for ITM Cup Player of the Year. All Blacks general Piri Weepu faces stiff competition for the treasured Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year Award, from his All Blacks teammates Israel Dagg and Cory Jane.
The success of New Zealand’s national teams will also make the task of identifying the best Age Grade and Sevens Players of the Year a tough assignment. Under 20 World Champions Brad Shields and Sam Cane will be up against New Zealand Schools captain Ardie Savea for Age Grade Player of the Year.
Three members of the New Zealand side that won the HSBC Sevens World Series are in contention for the Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year Award. The three are powerful Waikato winger Tim Mikkelson, impressive young try scorer Declan O’Donnell and the team’s playmaker Tomasi Cama.
The judges for the 2011 Steinlager Rugby Awards are former All Blacks captain and former NZRU President Andy Leslie, NZRU Board member and former All Blacks captain Graham Mourie, SKY Sport rugby commentator Grant Nisbett and former All Black and current NZRU General Manager Community and Provincial Union Rugby Brent Anderson.
The 2011 Steinlager Rugby Awards nominees
NZRU Age Grade Player of the Year Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty & New Zealand Under 20) Ardie Savea (Wellington & New Zealand Schools) Brad Shields (Wellington & New Zealand Under 20)
Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year Tomasi Cama (Manawatu) Tim Mikkelson (Waikato) Declan O’Donnell (Waikato)
Referee of the Year Award Nicky Inwood Glen Jackson Bryce Lawrence
NZRU Women’s Player of the Year Nominees to be announced closer to the awards
Charles Monro Rugby Volunteer of the Year Andy MacDonald (Canterbury) Marty Martin (King Country) Phil Monk (New Zealand Rugby Museum)
Investec Super Player of the Year Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders) Keven Mealamu (Blues) Adam Thomson (Highlanders)
Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year Israel Dagg, Ngati Kahungunu (Hawkes Bay, Crusaders, All Blacks) Cory Jane, Ngati Kahungunu (Wellington, Hurricanes, All Blacks) Piri Weepu, Whakatohea (Wellington, Hurricanes, All Blacks)
Heartland Championship Player of the Year Steelie Koro (Wanganui) Jason Rickards (Mid Canterbury) Jon Smyth (Wanganui)
ITM Cup Player of the Year Aaron Cruden (Manawatu) Nasi Manu (Canterbury) Scott Waldrom (Taranaki)
adidas Team of the Year All Blacks Canterbury Crusaders New Zealand Sevens
New Zealand Rugby Coach of the Year Graham Henry (All Blacks) Rob Penney (Canterbury) Gordon Tietjens (New Zealand Sevens)
Steinlager Salver for an Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand Rugby
Recipient announced on the night
Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year Jerome Kaino (Auckland, Blues, All Blacks) Richie McCaw (Canterbury, Crusaders, All Blacks) Ma’a Nonu (Wellington, Hurricanes, All Blacks)