Hirini's big rugby awards win ends 'emotional' year on a high

By James Perry

Winning New Zealand Rugby's player of the year award came as such a surprise to Sarah Hirini, she had not thought about possibly needing to make time for the media the morning after the awards were announced.

Instead, Hirini had booked herself to continue her pilot training lessons in Tauranga.

However, the Ngāti Kahungunu sevens superstar said winning three of the biggest awards on offer was "pretty special" in a year she says has been challenging. 

Hirini received the Women's Sevens player of the year award, the Tom French Memorial Trophy for Māori player of the year, before being surprised with the Kelvin R. Tremain trophy as the overall NZR Player of the year at last night's awards evening.

"I was at home with my husband watching the awards. When the big award came across the screen, we both looked at each other in surprise and 'holy heck, this is pretty massive,'" she told media during a brief stopover on the ground today.

Only wahine on the Tom French Cup

She becomes just the second woman to win the Tremain trophy; her 15s teammate Kendra Cocksedge was the first in 2018. She joins iconic names such as Richie McCaw, Ardie Savea, Daniel Carter and Jonah Lomu as the winners of the top award.

"It's again hugely honouring to cap off an amazing year from our team, so being able to share that with the team is pretty special," Hirini said.

She said 2021 had been a challenging year, on and off the field. Not only did Covid-19 push the 2020 Olympic Games out a year, meaning Hirini and her teammates had to readjust to a new schedule to win a coveted gold medal but she also lost her mother, Ronnie Goss, suddenly in March. 

"I've probably had the highest of highs and definitely one of the lowest of lows that could ever happen. I see it as a very emotional year, both positive and negative.

"To know we [the whānau] went through something at the start of the year, to be able to give them something special to celebrate has been really nice.

"Hearing my dad, and what it means to him and seeing the smile on his face made me pretty happy."

She is the only wahine to have her name on the Tom French Cup. In an ever-increasing field of talented Māori rugby players, male and female, Hirini says it's a huge honour not only to represent Māori on the world stage but also to be recognised as one of the best.