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Dublin: 13°C Sunday 16 May 2021

Bundee Aki voted Player of the Year in Connacht, Ben Te'o takes Leinster gong

Josh van der Flier and Sean O’Brien picked up the equivalent prize for young players in their respective provinces.

Aki and Te'o were formidable adversaries in the Sportsground.
Aki and Te'o were formidable adversaries in the Sportsground.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT WAS A good night for Kiwi centres on both sides of the Shannon last night as Leinster and Connacht unveiled their Players’ Player of the Year awards.

Bundee Aki was voted Connacht Player of the Year by his peers and was anointed for the same honour by the fans.

Aki has played 26 of his province’s 28 games to date, with possibly two more to come, and was quick to dedicate the individual honour back to the collective.

“While it’s very humbling to receive these awards, I’m definitely collecting them on behalf of the whole team,” said the 26-year-old after helping the Westerners claim a top two finish and with it a home semi-final in the Pro12 playoffs.

“It’s been a phenomenal season and it’s fantastic to see that all the hard work from absolutely everyone since day one of pre-season has paid off to get us to where we are now.”

Connacht Rugby Players’ Player of the Year Bundee Aki Aki with his award at Connacht's awards gala. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Captain John Muldoon was awarded forward of the year in his native province with former Ireland under 20 captain Sean O’Brien receiving the award for Academy Player of the Year.

Over in Dublin 4, Leinster’s awards ball handed out the big prize to Te’o, who will depart for Premiership side Worcester Warriors having played a key role in Garry Ringrose’s rise to prominence this season.

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After a season in which he made himself impossible to ignore in blue and earned a starting place during Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, flanker Josh van der Flier was named Young Player of the Year.

Ben Te'o with Tom Brown Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I am delighted for Ben and Josh,” said head coach Leo Cullen, “I think we can acknowledge that Ben and Josh have had outstanding years and I congratulate them both. The award is probably that bit more special as it has been voted for by their fellow players.”

With the end of the regular season meaning a host of players in every club must move on to a new challenge or a new country, Cullen paid particular tribute to Isaac Boss and Kevin McLaughlin, who began the season as captain before being forced to retire.

“Naturally it is a night of mixed emotion for some of those here but I am very grateful to each and every one of those players for their contribution to Leinster Rugby over the years and I wish them every success in their careers ahead.”

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Sean Farrell

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