Rugby: IRB wins booby prize for award shortlist

Richie McCaw
Richie McCaw
In what was an already poor month for the IRB, the governing body finished it with yet another boob in their random nominations for player of the year that failed, once again, to acknowledge a tight forward anywhere in the world.

Amazingly, in the 11 years the player of the year award has been running, only one tight forward, England's Steve Thompson, has made the shortlist.

Rugby preaches core values of team-work and unity, promotes the need for collective effort and frowns at rival code football's cult of "me", and then every year can't congratulate the glory boys quickly enough.

There is no gripe with Richie McCaw receiving the reward, but a shortlist that included one openside flanker and three first-fives is hardly representative or reflective of how test football works.

Rugby is a jigsaw - each individual does their job and the big picture emerges. It's easy to see what Daniel Carter does; easy to be impressed by the likes of Julian Savea and Bryan Habana in full flight, but so much of what they do is only possible because of the supremely efficient work being done by numbers one to five.

Surely it's about time the likes of Tony Woodcock, Dan Cole, Adam Jones and Jannie du Plessis were recognised for their endlessly good and vital contributions?

These men are as much the rock stars of the world game as the 10s and wings who steal the show, maybe even more so, and not once in 11 years has a prop made the IRB shortlist.

Even stranger is that in European club rugby it is the props who are regularly the top earners - the IRB might not have a clue, but club owners know the value of big men who can scrummage and clean out. These are thankless but vital chores that might seem mundane, but they are as skilled and as important as making a linebreak.

There is no need to denigrate Owen Farrell and Freddie Michalak as players - yet the point still stands, the panel that judges this year's awards have made a nonsense of them - just like all of their predecessors. Can we really take them seriously when they appear to actively exclude the tight five?

Even McCaw was a little perplexed by the shortlist.

"Probably a little bit I suppose," he said. "It is quite hard I suppose to pick out all the guys because there are guys who have done well for us at various times throughout the year. There are a few guys who put up their hands at times. I think someone like Kieran Read and Israel Dagg - they have both been a significant part of how this team has gone.

"Even a young fella like Aaron Smith who has been reasonably consistent.

"So I think when you are in a team you realise that each person does their role each week to ensure that the team plays better. Sometimes there are individuals that look good but it is the team effort that helps that. That is the tough part of an individual award in a team sport - who has made those guys look good."

Woodcock probably reacted the best when he was told that a prop had never been on the shortlist. "Really? Is that right. Never?"

- By Gregor Paul of the Herald on Sunday in London