Rugby: Clarke rock for Chiefs

Chiefs captain Craig Clarke.
Chiefs captain Craig Clarke.
The New Zealand rugby awards take place in Auckland tonight. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn picks a few winners.

Super rugby player of the year: Craig Clarke (Chiefs).

The tough lock captained the team to victory and was the rock around a team of stars. The Chiefs tight five was seen before the season as the barrier to success but Clarke made sure that was not the case as the Hamilton-based outfit stormed to the championship.

ITM Cup player of the year: Charles Piutau (Auckland).

Piutau took to the ITM Cup like a duck to water, and was a constant threat from the back for Auckland. Ran hard and always made the advantage line. Scored a couple of crucial tries to help Auckland make the final.

Sevens player of the year: Tim Mikkelson (Waikato).

The Mooloo man does not look overly quick. Tall and relatively thin, his gangly appearance is deceptive as he is fast and skilful and can break tackles. Made many tries for a successful New Zealand sevens side.

Coach of the year: Steve Hansen (All Blacks).

One blip in a year where the All Blacks swept most of what was put in front of them. Hansen grew into the role quickly and made some well-judged calls throughout the season. But some tough ones await next year.

Team of the year: Chiefs.

They really were the fairytale of the year. They ended the first game of the competition with two of their best front-rowers crocked and seemingly devoid of spirit. But they turned it round to win a breakthrough title. Will be tough for the other contenders - All Blacks and Canterbury - to miss out.

Player of the year: Richie McCaw.

The All Black captain just shades the other candidates, Kieran Read and Conrad Smith, who blotted their copybooks thanks to 80 minutes at Twickenham a couple of weeks ago. McCaw never played a bad game, captained his side to plenty of silverware, and his own game saw him became more of a runner than an out-and-out fetcher.



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