Sarah Hirini takes top prize at NZ Rugby awards

By Will Trafford

In a huge night for Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini (Ngāti Kahungunu) the loose forward has taken out three major prizes at the 2021 ASB New Zealand Rugby Awards, including the top billing Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year.

As well as being recognised as New Zealand’s outstanding overall player in 2021, Hirini was also named the Black Ferns Sevens Player of the Year and became a two-time winner of the Tom French Memorial Māori Player of the Year award.

Hirini's individual brilliance was on display as she led her team to Olympic gold in Tokyo, her teammates and coaches getting top honours for the outing too. The Black Ferns Sevens were recognised as the adidas New Zealand Team of the Year for the fourth year running, and co-coaches Cory Sweeney and Allan Bunting were jointly named as the ASB New Zealand Coach of the Year, for the third year in a row.

“It’s fitting that the Black Ferns Sevens were named as our adidas New Zealand Team of the Year and that their leader has been deservedly recognised for her outstanding contribution to her team, to Māori rugby and to the game in Aotearoa. Sarah has been the standard bearer for our game in 2021." said NZR CEO Mark Robinson.

To cap off an evening where women’s rugby shone brightly, Anna Richards, one of the true legends of women’s rugby, became the first female recipient of the prestigious Steinlager Salver, an honour reserved for individuals who have made a lasting impact on the development and ongoing success of rugby in New Zealand.

 Sarah Hirini and Black Ferns Sevens celebrate Gold in Tokyo.

Above: Sarah Hirini and Black Ferns Sevens celebrate Gold in Tokyo.

Richards, an inductee to World Rugby’s Hall of Fame, has been making an impact since making her Black Ferns debut in 1990, going on to play 54 games, including 49 Tests, and winning four Rugby World Cups. She was also a member of the Auckland Storm side that went undefeated from 1994 through to 2005.

Made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005 (MNZM), Richards’ contribution has continued well past her playing days as a coach, development manager, volunteer and mentor.

"Anna has undoubtedly inspired a generation of women to play our game."

“It is wonderful to see women’s rugby leading the charge as we head toward next year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.” said Robinson.

Ardie Savea was named All Blacks Player of the Year, setting a trend for loose forwards, with Kennedy Simon winning Black Ferns Player of the Year, and Scott Curry taking home the All Blacks Sevens Player of the Year award.

The Crusaders headed off the Waikato NPC team, Waikato FPC team, and South Canterbury to win the adidas National Team of the Year Award, after winning the Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa title and then going unbeaten through the Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition. Crusaders first five Richie Mo’unga was rewarded the Sky Super Rugby Player of the Year gong.

Waikato’s Ross Filipo took out ASB National Coach of the Year, after guiding the Mooloos to the Bunnings Warehouse NPC Premiership title in the union’s centenary year. Taranaki first-five Stephen Perofeta won the Duane Monkley Medal as the NPC’s best player, after guiding his team to an undefeated season in the Championship, while Taranaki teammate and new All Black Josh Lord was named New Zealand Rugby Age Grade Player of the Year.

Northland Kauri captain and prop Krystal Murray won the Fiao'o Faamausili Medal to be recognised as the Bunnings Warehouse Farah Palmer Cup’s Player of the Year, while South Canterbury's Willie Wright was judged to be the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship's best player.

Above: Black Ferns Sevens take Gold in Tokyo - Highlights / Sky Sport NZ

Former Black Fern Melodie Robinson received the Kirk Award, awarded by the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association for outstanding contribution on behalf of professional players both on and off the field.

Auckland’s Ben O’Keefe is the 2021 New Zealand Rugby Referee of the Year, while Peter Chaplin, a former prop turned administrator for High School Old Boys' Rugby Club in Canterbury, was recognised with the Charles Monro Rugby Volunteer of the Year award.

The Sky Fans Try of the Year, decided by public vote, went to Tasman and All Blacks wing Sevu Reece who handled the ball three times during a breathtaking counter- attack try against Wales at Millennium Stadium during the Tudor Northern Tour.

Due to COVID-19 this year’s awards were hosted in a made-for-TV special on Sky. ASB Community, Sponsorship & Events Manager Jonathan Rea praised the entire rugby community in a difficult year of COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions.

“COVID-19 has thrown up plenty of challenges for us all, so it’s been inspiring to watch players and teams push through that adversity and chase their goals in 2021."

“It’s important to celebrate and acknowledge the contribution of the players, volunteers, coaches and referees who continue to make the rugby such a vibrant and central part of Aotearoa’s sporting landscape.” Rea added.