Rugby: All Blacks, McCaw, Henry, Take Top Prizes at 2010 IRB Awards
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The All Blacks dominated the 2010 IRB awards last night, sweeping all three major awards. Graham Henry was awarded with Coach of the Year, the All Blacks were named Team of the Year and Richie McCaw won Player of the Year for the third time.
The sweep is a reflection of what has been one of the best All Black seasons in recent times, even by their standards. They lost just one of their 14 games this year. And even then, the loss came from a last minute try by the Wallabies in what was perhaps the All Blacks worst and most disjointed performance of the year.
It was a season which included a Grand Slam win, a perfect 6-0 win-loss record in the Tri-Nations, the retention of the Bledisloe Cup for the eighth consecutive year as well as a 3-0 whitewash of a Springbok team who arrived on New Zealand shores in July with a mountain of confidence after such a good 2009.
This made them the obvious choice for Team of the Year. Their dominance was such that there was simply no competition. The next closest team was arguably the Wallabies.
But it was also a Wallaby team who were handed three consecutive defeats by the men in black, a Wallaby team who were humiliated by England and were unable to close out games that were there for the taking.
As captain of the All Blacks, Richie McCaw was always going to be a clear favourite for the Player of the Year. This, along with his dominance in every game he played in this year, saw that he claimed back to back Player of the Year awards, adding to his first in 2006.
Of the nominated players, who would you have chosen for Player of the Year?
McCaw was simply at another level this year. It is often said that a player surrounded by stars can struggle to stand out above all others, but McCaw did. The All Blacks boasted a large number of the top players in the world this year, yet McCaw's influence was still as large as ever.
In fact, it was quite likely that they would not have claimed victory in Sydney or Soccer City this year had McCaw not single-handedly kept the All Blacks in the game after slow starts. Arguments of him being the greatest to ever wear the black jersey are now being strengthened and with three Player of the Year awards, it seems likely that in 10 years time he will be classed alongside Colin Meads as one of the greatest, most influential All Blacks of all time.
The other players in the running for the award were All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina, South African lock Victor Matfield, French No. 8 Imanol Harinordoquy and Australia's two biggest improvers, the dangerous Kurtley Beale and McCaw's closest competition, David Pocock.
Graham Henry has claimed his fourth Coach of the Year award after coaching the All Blacks back to the top after falling away last year. Henry was able to re-invent the way the game was played this year and was surely the brains behind the All Blacks fast-paced, ball in hand game plan that saw them breeze past all opposition.
In fact, it has become so effective that almost every other team in the world has started playing in the same way in order to try to catch the same success that the All Blacks have had. As of now though, it seems Australia are the only team who has the skill level to play the game this way.
His critics have been silenced even further and now even the most patriotic Deans supporters must be at least content with the choice of Henry to guide the All Blacks through to the 2011 World Cup.
The awards mark the end of a stellar 2010 for New Zealand rugby, but 2011 is just around the corner and the focus now switches to the World Cup, where the world's most dominant rugby team will attempt to win the trophy that has alluded their grasp for the past 24 years.
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