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Dublin: 18 °C Tuesday 16 July, 2019
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Williams wins Players' Player of the Year as Henshaw scoops Nevin Spence Award

Simon Zebo won Supporter’s Player of the Year and Donnacha Ryan captured the prize for ‘best undersized tie’.

IRISH RUGBY’S BRIGHTEST and best were at the Burlington Hotel last night to reflect on a topsy-turvy sporting season and to award baubles to those among them who excelled over the past eight months.

Nick Williams was accompanied by 20 of his Ulster teammates to the Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association awards ceremony and made it a trip to remember by capturing the top prize – the Players’ Player of the Year. The New Zealander has been a revelation in his first year with the province and was a popular winner on the night.

His provincial teammate, Craig Gilroy claimed the award for Try of the Year for his brilliant step inside and outfoxing of three Argentine players on his Ireland debut last November. It is the second time in two seasons that the winger has won the accolade, having triumphed last year for his stunning individual score against Munster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final.

Gilroy’s opener against Argentina set Ireland on their way to victory. (©INPHO/James Crombie)

Robbie Henshaw won the Young Player of the Year prize and paid credit to Eric Elwood, his outgoing coach at Connacht, who he described as ‘a God’ to rugby supporters out west. Ulster’s Rory Best presented the Nevin Spence Award — named after the 23-year-old centre who passed away on his family farm last September — to the grateful Connacht fullback. Simon Zebo won the Supporters’ Player of the Year Award.

Former Leinster and Ireland winger was inducted into the IRUPA Hall of Fame at the black tie ceremony, which was hosted by World Cup-winning ex-England and Leicester forward Ben Kay. Kay joked that he had been instructed by then-England coach Andy Robinson to punch Irish lock Paul O’Connell at the first lineout of their 2005 Six Nations clash. Robinson’s logic, Kay remarked, was that O’Connell was sure to retaliate, leading to red cards for both men and greater damage to Ireland’s chances.

Munster coach Rob Penney arrived at the Dublin hotel, in a club jersey and trademark shorts, less than an hour before festivities commenced but was suited and booted well before the main reception. He spoke genially to Leinster scrum-halves Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan and grinned widely when commended on the shrewd business of signing Blues’ winger Andrew Conway.

Paul O’Connell, after stopping to sign a Lions jersey or three, sought out Ulster lock Iain Henderson and hooker Rory Best for a chat. Ian Madigan’s flouncing quiff was becalmed for the night as he dealt with a greater deal of attention than he would have received last season. Williams, who also won the RaboDirect Pro12 Player of the Year prize on Sunday, caught up with some of his Munster ‘brothers’:

‘Chur bro!’ (Credit: @nick8williams)

Joe Schmidt should have been the Lions head coach – Stuart Barnes

Tom Croft to edge Sean O’Brien out of Lions back row – Scott Quinnell

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Patrick McCarry

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