England's Farrell in player of the year shock
LONDON (AFP) –
Owen Farrell was dramatically included Wednesday among four nominees for the prestigious International Rugby Board (IRB) player of the year award, even though he is currently England’s reserve fly-half.
Rather more predictably, world champions New Zealand provided half the shortlist in former winners Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, with recalled France fly-half Frederic Michalak completing the quartet.
Remarkably, there was no place for inspirational Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who led the Pumas so impressively in their inaugural Rugby Championship campaign and in their recent win over Wales.
Australia too were denied representation with no place for either of their impressive back-row stars in David Pocock and his able deputy Michael Hooper.
And Wales, despite being Six Nations Grand Slam champion, did not have a candidate for the honour in the final four, as was the case last year when Welsh players were overlooked despite the country’s run to the World Cup semi-finals.
Nor was South Africa’s rise to number two in the world rankings acknowledged by the inclusion of a Springbok player.
Farrell, the 21-year-old son of England assistant coach Andy Farrell, is expected to replace injured Toby Flood against New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday, having come off the bench in last week’s 16-15 loss to South Africa.
If selected in the 1st XV, it will the 2011 IRB Junior World Championship finalist’s first Test start since losing his place to Flood during the tour of South Africa in June.
While Farrell’s inclusion is sure to provoke debate, few could question the credentials of three-time former winner McCaw, who has had another stellar year at openside flanker following on from New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup triumph.
Meanwhile fly-half Carter, the 2005 winner, has bounced back well after suffering the disappointment of seeing his World Cup cut short by injury while Michalak has been in sparkling form since being recalled, after a two-year absence, to Test duty in June.
This year’s winner will be announced at Monday’s 2015 Rugby World Cup pool draw in London, along with the IRB team and coach of the year.
Australia World Cup-winning captain John Eales was chairman of a selection panel which included his fellow ex-internationals Will Greenwood, Gavin Hastings, Raphael Ibanez, Francois Pienaar, Agustin Pichot, Scott Quinnell, Tana Umaga and Paul Wallace.
IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “As ever, the competition has been fierce and the panel had a tough time deliberating the shortlist from a number of stand-out candidates.
“All four players on the shortlist thoroughly deserve their place after stand-out performances during the year and consistency in the tough environment that is Test rugby,” the Frenchman added.
IRB player of the year award 2012 nominees:
Richie McCaw (NZL)
Dan Carter (NZL)
Owen Farrell (ENG)
Frederic Michalak (FRA)
2011: Thierry Dusautoir (FRA)
2010: Richie McCaw (NZL)
2009: Richie McCaw (NZL)
2008: Shane Williams (WAL)
2007: Bryan Habana (RSA)
2006: Richie McCaw (NZL)
2005: Dan Carter (NZL)
2004: Schalk Burger (RSA)
2003: Jonny Wilkinson (ENG)
2002: Fabien Galthie (FRA)
2001: Keith Wood (IRL)