2010 World Rugby Awards (Includes Videos)
With the conclusion of the 2010 rugby season it is time to take a moment to reflect on the year that was and reward those men who excelled during the course of the season.
It was a season that was dominated by the All Blacks who, after having a 2009 to forget, stepped up and reclaimed their spot as the No. 1 team in the world. There were many outstanding games with some very good and exciting rugby being played, making 2010 one of the most memorable seasons in recent history.
Just a quick note, these awards reflect my opinion solely and not necessarily that of the other writers here on Bleacher Report. Looking at each category I tried to put aside any sentiment or past knowledge and judge each player or team based on how they performed in 2010.
Try Of The Year: Bryan Habana (Stormers Vs Chiefs)
It was not a year to remember for one of the world's top wingers, Bryan Habana. He was well below his normal brilliant self. However he started the year off in the same way he finished 2009 and was lucky enough to be on the end of the line when the Stormers scored a breathtaking try which saw the ball go through nine pairs of hands, before they spun it wide for Habana to touch down in the corner.
Big Hit Of The Year: Jerome Kaino on Bradley Davies
A man who delivered many a big hit during 2010, but this one takes the cake.
Player For The Future: TJ Perenara
TJ Perenara may not yet be a household name but his talent is clear. At the age of just 18 he has already represented Wellington and has two first class games to his name, including a Ranfurly Shield Challenge against Canterbury. All this while still being a schoolboy.
He captained the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in fact, and was instrumental in their victory over Australian Secondary Schools in October.
In his two Air New Zealand Cup appearances he was very good, directing play well and taking good options, while also proving dangerous running from the base. It looked as though he'd been playing at this level for years and was able to stand out playing against men much older and experienced than himself. To go with this, he is also a very good goal kicker, as was seen in his performance for New Zealand Secondary Schools this year.
Watch this kid. He's going to be good.
International Rookie Of The Year: Sam Whitelock
2010 was a breakout year for many young players taking their first steps on the international scene.
Many showed loads of potential and delivered some great performances. Ben Youngs and Sonny Bill Williams are two names that come to mind as being prominent rookies, both being dynamic during the Autumn tests.
However, it was Sam Whitelock who took the largest steps to stardom during 2010. He started the year as the only non-All Black of four Crusaders locks who included Brad Thorn, Chris Jack and Isaac Ross. But consistent performances saw Whitelock work his way into the starting lineup and form a formidable locking partnership with hard man Brad Thorn.
He then proceeded to be selected for the All Blacks and by the end of the Tri-Nations there was no doubt in anyone's mind whether he deserved his spot or not. He had a large impact whenever he was on the park with his good lineout jumping and high work rate around the park. An injury to Tom Donnelly late in the year saw him get a more consistent starting role and he just continued to play better and better. It is hard to believe that he has only been an international for one year and is just 22 years old.
While there are strong arguments for both Youngs and Williams, both only came to prominence on the international scene during November whereas Whitelock was heavily involved in the game throughout the whole year.
Best Non-International Team Of The Year: The Bulls
Just to be clear, this award constitutes any club, provincial or super rugby team. And there really was only one team who was going to win this. The Bulls were simply outstanding, dominating the Super 14 from start to finish. They didn't lose a game at home all season in the fortress that is Loftus Versfeld and also delivered some admirable performances on the road, losing to only the Blues, the Reds and the Stormers.
After having already secured the top spot a week before the end of the competition, they chose to rest many of their top players for their last round match against the Stormers which sparked some controversy. The Stormers romped home in this encounter, dominating the Bulls.
But this was obviously always in the back of the Bulls' minds as they won a thrilling encounter against the most successful Super Rugby team of all time in the Crusaders. They backed this up a week later with a dominant performance to beat the Stormers in the final, claiming their second title in two years and their third in four years.
With the Bulls' dominance, we may well be experiencing what could be remembered as the second dynasty in Super Rugby history.
Most Improved Player: Kieran Read
Kieran Read firmly established himself as the world's top No. 8 in 2010. After being promoted to test match status in 2009, Read took a while finding his feet and did enough to impress the selectors. During the 2010 Super 14 he was outstanding for the Crusaders and held the forward pack together when Richie McCaw was missing.
He was able to carry this form through to the test season, playing a large role in the All Blacks' dominance with his ball carrying ability and hard work in defence. This was recognised with him being named New Zealand Rugby Player Of The Year for the first time.
Now one of the top players in the world, Read will look to carry his form through to 2011 and confirm his place amongst the elites of the game with a successful World Cup campaign in September.
Coach Of The Year: Graham Henry
After being re-appointed All Blacks coach ahead of the popular Robbie Deans after the 2007 World Cup failure, Henry has been under much pressure to deliver the goods.
Up until 2010 there has been doubt as to whether he was the right man for the job, especially after such a horrible year in 2009.
But that was all to change, as Henry's game plan of fast, expansive rugby paid off and allowed the All Blacks to wear down their opposition and gain a dominance over the rugby world that hasn't been seen since the All Black teams of the mid to late 1990s.
Team Of The Year: The All Blacks
After an uncharacteristically bad year in 2009 the All Blacks came back fitter, stronger and much better prepared for the 2010 season. With a new and improved game plan in place, they were able to play a style of rugby that is now being adapted all over the world. But it was their high fitness level that has allowed them to play that way and saw them go past their opposition in the last 20 minutes.
In 2010 they went through the Tri-Nations unbeaten, retained the Bledisloe Cup and successfully completed their fourth Grand Slam in their 108 year test history. Their dominance in 2010 was complete and fully deserves the tag of best team in the world at any level.
Player Of The Year: Richie McCaw
Who else? Richie McCaw was simply outstanding this year, even by his own high standards, outlined by winning his third IRB Player Of The Year Award.
He was the key figure in the All Blacks dominance of 2010, putting in some inspirational performances, leading from the front. On more than one occasion he held the All Blacks together when things weren't going right before they fired once more.
It is now being asked whether he is the greatest man to ever pull on an All Black jersey, an honour that has been almost unanimously bestowed upon the great Colin Meads for the past 40 years, again showing McCaw's dominance.
Not only does he rarely have a bad game, he rarely doesn't have a stand out game. It has almost gotten to the point where his talents are taken for granted as it has just become common practice to see McCaw play a stand out game and he isn't given the full credit he deserves.
Nonetheless, there would be few who would argue that the All Blacks captain doesn't deserve rugby's top award after what has been another stellar year for one of the legends of the game.