A host of the stars from 2015 will be let loose in Super Rugby this weekend, chief amongst them Springbok and Cheetahs lock Lood de Jager, who was on Thursday evening named the SA Rugby Player of the Year for last season, acknowledging his stellar performances in the green and gold during a tough international season.
Other winners who will feature this weekend include the Bulls duo of centre Jesse Kriel and fullback Warrick Gelant, as well as Jaco Kriel, flanker of the Golden Lions.
The 23-year-old De Jager is the youngest winner of the most prestigious award in South African rugby since Bryan Habana walked away with the spoils in 2005, aged 22.
The Cheetahs lock edged out fellow nominees for the top award, centre Damian de Allende, lock Eben Etzebeth, flank Schalk Burger and Jaco Kriel.
Jaco Kriel, however, was rewarded for a sublime season by walking away with two accolades – the prestigious Players’ Player of the Year Award, presented by MyPlayers, and the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year Award, after he led the Golden Lions to the crown.
The Golden Lions were deservedly named the Absa Team of the Year, while Johan Ackermann walked away with the Absa Coach of the Year award for the second consecutive season, capping a fine 2015 for the Johannesburg-based union.
De Allende, who just lost out to De Jager for the top award following an extensive voting process from the media and public, was named the Vodacom Super Rugby Player of the Year after delivering consistently strong performances for the Stormers.
Jesse Kriel, who partnered De Allende in a potent midfield combination in the latter stages of the Rugby World Cup, was named Absa Young Player of the Year, while Gelant, one of the Junior Springboks’ stars last season, walked away with spoils as SA Under-20 Player of the Year.
Werner Kok, World Rugby’s Sevens Player of the Year, was a unanimous decision as Springbok Sevens Player of the Year, with Veroeshka Grain earning the Women’s Achiever Award and Rasta Rasivhenge winning the Marriott Referee Award.
The other award winners were Marnus Schoeman of the Steval Pumas (Vodacom Cup Player of the Year), Leopards fullback Rhyno Smith (Absa Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year), Johan Deysel of NWU-Pukke (Supersport Try of the Year), Ernst van Rhyn of Western Province (Coca-Cola Craven Week Player of the Year) and Leon du Plessis of Rustenburg Impala (Club Player of the Year).
“I would like to congratulate Lood and all the other winners on their achievements in 2015,” said SA Rugby President, Mr Oregan Hoskins.
“We may not have achieved the results we wanted, but when one looks back at the achievements of these and other individuals, their conduct on the field and off it, and the way in which they acted as ambassadors for their teams and their country, you cannot help but feel proud.
“It’s encouraging to see the relative youth of so many of the winners and nominees, something that certainly bodes well for the future of the Springboks and South African rugby as a whole.
“I certainly can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring.”
De Jager thanked his family, friends, coaches and team-mates for their support and said he hoped to make them proud again this year.
“Personally, I had an unbelievable year with the Springboks, although it was a bit up and down for the team,” said De Jager.
“But a lot of younger players gained invaluable experience and this bodes well for the future of the South African game, we just have to now go out and use it in 2016.
“I’m excited for a big season ahead, with a lot of challenges, and I’m sure we can all make a difference this year.”
The winners and finalists (where applicable) in all the categories for 2015 are:
SARU Rugby Player of the Year: Lood de Jager
Nominees: Schalk Burger, Damian De Allende, Eben Etzebeth, Jaco Kriel
Absa Young Player of the Year: Jesse Kriel
Nominees: Lood de Jager, Warrick Gelant, Handré Pollard, Seabelo Senatla
Players’ Player of the Year presented by MyPlayers: Jaco Kriel
SA Sevens Player of the Year: Werner Kok
Nominees: Seabelo Senatla, Kwagga Smith
SA Under-20 Player of the Year: Warrick Gelant
Nominees: Jason Jenkins, Hanro Liebenberg
Absa Team of the Year: Xerox Golden Lions (Currie Cup)
Nominees: Springboks, Springbok Sevens, DHL Stormers (Vodacom Super Rugby), DHL Western Province (Currie Cup)
Absa Coach of the Year: Johann Ackermann (Xerox Golden Lions)
Nominees: Robert du Preez (NWU-Pukke, Leopards), Neil Powell (Springbok Sevens)
Vodacom Super Rugby Player of Year: Damian De Allende (DHL Stormers)
Nominees: Jaco Kriel (Emirates Lions), Warren Whiteley (Emirates Lions)
Vodacom Cup Player of the Year: Marnus Schoeman (Steval Pumas)
Nominees: Wiaan Liebenberg (Vodacom Blue Bulls), JC Roos (Steval Pumas)
Absa Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year: Jaco Kriel (Xerox Golden Lions)
Nominees: Warrick Gelant (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Warren Whiteley (Xerox Golden Lions)
Absa Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year: Rhyno Smith (Leopards)
Nominees: Leighton Eksteen (SWD Eagles), Juan Language (Leopards)
Supersport Try of the Year: Johan Deysel (NWU-Pukke v Shimas, FNB Varsity Cup Final, presented by Steinhoff International)
Nominees: Faf de Klerk (Emirates Lions v Vodacom Bulls, Vodacom Super Rugby), Jesse Kriel (Springboks v Australia, Castle Lager Rugby Championship), Dillon Smit (FNB Varsity Cup Dream Team v SA Under-20), Rhyno Smith (FNB Varsity Cup Dream Team v SA Under-20).
Coca-Cola Craven Week Player of the Year: Ernst van Rhyn (WP)
Marriott Referee Award: Rasta Rasivhenge
Women’s Achiever Award: Veroeshka Grain
Club Player of the Year: Leon du Plessis (Rustenburg Impala)