Stand up, CJ Stander, the man of the season. The 26-year-old South African-born Munster and Irish backrower has become only the third overseas player to receive the Zurich Irupa Players’ Player of the Year award and the first overseas player to win The Irish Times-sponsored Supporters’ Player of the Year award.
Stander thus became the first ever player to scoop the double at the 14th annual awards dinner in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel last night. His awards come amid the burden of captaining his adopted province this season. With that in mind, Stander said: “This is a big surprise. I’m delighted to get the award on a personal level. I wish I had achieved something with the team this year, but there’s always next year.”
The other caveat is that his personal awards will be tarnished if Munster don’t nail down a top six place this Saturday when hosting the Scarlets at Thomond Park and thus extend their unbroken 21-year presence in the European Champions Cup next season.
“It’s tough because I’m proud of what I’ve done but captaining Munster you feel a lot of responsibility and if we don’t capture qualification this weekend it’s going to feel like a disappointing year,” he said.
Even so, coming after his first Six Nations campaign as an ever-present, which he bookended with a Man of the Match performance on his debut against Wales and tries in the home wins over Italy and Scotland, it has been quite a season for Stander.
“Yeah, I would have taken that at the start of the season. When I got called up into the squad for the Six Nations I thought I’d be in the group and maybe on the bench or whatever,” he said.
“When Joe called me in for the first game, it was one of the best weeks of my life. Getting to start the next four games was great on a personal level because I worked hard and I had goals and wanted to achieve them. But now I have to get better. There are still a lot more goals I want to achieve in my career.”
The latest inductee into the BNY Mellon Hall of Fame was Munster and Ireland Ronan O’Gara. Leinster’s Isaac Boss was awarded the Vodafone Medal for Excellence, which rewards on-field effort combined with off-field commitment to the game.
The Zurich Contribution to Irish Society was presented to former Leinster player Niall Breslin in recognition of the impact he’s made in raising awareness of mental health and various other charities.
The BNY Mellon Women’s Fifteens Player of the Year 2016, as voted by members of the Ireland squad, was presented to another Irish international debutant, Sene Naoupu, for her outstanding performances. The winner of the Women’s Sevens Player of the Year 2016 was Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe who helped Ireland to qualify for the World Series for the first time.
Members of the public voted for Connacht’s first win in 29 years in Limerickas the Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa Rugby Moment of the Year via Twitter.
“Winning an Irupa award is the highest honour a player can receive. All the winners and nominees have the total respect of those who they play with and against and I am delighted for CJ,” said Irupa chief executive Omar Hassanein.
Irupa Players’ Player of the Year Winner: CJ Stander (Munster)
Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year Winner: Josh van der Flier (Leinster)
Nominations: Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
Volkswagen Try of the Year Winner: Jamie Heaslip ( Ireland v Italy, Six Nations)
Vodafone Medal for Excellence Winner: Isaac Boss (Leinster)
Nominations: Isaac Boss (Leinster), Ronan Loughney (Connacht), John Muldoon (Connacht)
BNY Mellon Irupa Hall of Fame Inducted: Ronan O’Gara (Munster)
The Irish Times Supporters’ Player of the Year Winner: CJ Stander (Munster)
Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa Moment of the Year Winner: Connacht’s victory over Munster in Thomond Park
BNY Mellon Women’s Fifteens Player of the Year Sene Naoupu
Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe
Zurich Contribution to Irish Society Niall Breslin