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While fans mirrored the players in voting New Zealand’s Kieran Read their “Player of the Year”, they made as many as six changes when it came to their overall XV, most noticeably in the backline, where they pumped for a different halfback, first five-eighth, inside centre and wing.
The fans’ opted for Australian halfback Will Genia ahead of the Players’ pick, All Black Aaron Smith; first five-eighth Dan Carter over countryman Aaron Cruden, South Africa’s Jean de Villiers over Wesley Fofana at inside centre, and Folau ahead of New Zealand’s Ben Smith.
However, the fans were at one with the players when it came to hailing three of the stand-out performers on the world stage in 2013 – England prop Alex Corbisiero, South African lock Eben Etzebeth and Welsh wing George North.
Corbisiero played a vital role in the British and Irish Lions’ series win over Australia; Etzebeth enjoyed a stellar second international season with South Africa, and North scored one of the tries of the season in the opening Lions’ test, before dotting down again in the series decider.
Read narrowly won the vote for the Ultimate Rugby Fans’ ‘Player of the Year’ ahead of Wales and Lions’ star Leigh Halfpenny, with Folau, Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien, and North the next most heavily supported.
Genia said yesterday he was thrilled to be recognised by the fans.
“It’s great the fans have been invited to participate in these awards,” he said. “They’re such a vital part of the international rugby machinery; it’s good to see they have a chance to have their say. And, of course, I’m doubly pleased they’ve included me in their World XV.”
Corbisiero said inclusion in the fans’ team capped off for him a memorable year.
“Being part of the first Lion’s series win since 1997 was always going to make this year very special, but to then be named in the Players World XV and also the Fans’ World XV has topped it all off, really.
“I thank the fans for voting for me, and congratulate IRPA and Ultimate Rugby for coming up with such a worthy concept.”
Etzebeth, also named last week in the Players’ World XV of the Year, echoed those sentiments, saying it was humbling to be honoured by the people who made rugby such a successful product – the players and the fans.
“I’ve really enjoyed my rugby through 2013,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic experience and this makes it all the sweeter.
“To the organisers of the Ultimate Rugby IRPA awards, and to the fans who voted for me - may I just say, ‘many thanks’.”
North was another favourite of both the fans and players alike; his eye for the line balanced by a strong defensive performance – including a memorable tackle on Folau during the second Lions test.
“This has been a fabulous year for the Lions and Wales and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of it,” he said.
“I felt honoured to be picked in the Players’ World XV and feel similarly about being recognised in the fan’s team. It’s a lovely book-end for the year.”
IRPA officials reported tens of thousands of rugby fans voted for their Player of the Year and World XV of the Year via the Ultimate Rugby free downloadable app, as part of IRPA’s first annual awards ceremony.
“The Ultimate Rugby application is a must have for rugby fans and players alike” IRPA Executive Director Rob Nichol said “Not only are we impressed by the extent of live rugby updates and player profiles it provides but the platform created that allowed both players and so many fans to recognise the outstanding achievements of the world’s best for 2013 was fundamental to the success of the inaugural IRPAs”
Ultimate Rugby IRPA Fans’ Awards. Category winners.
Fans’ Player of the Year: Kieran Read
Fans’ World XV of the Year: Alex Corbisiero (ENG), Bismarck Du Plessis (SA), Adam Jones (WAL), Eben Etzebeth (SA), Alun-Wyn Jones (WAL), Liam Messam (NZ), Richie McCaw (NZ), Kieran Read (NZ); Will Genia (AUS), Dan Carter (NZ), George North (WAL), Jean de Villiers (SA), Conrad Smith (NZ), Israel Folau (AUS), Leigh Halfpenny (WAL).