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Top class Keith Earls voted Players' Player of the Year after Grand Slam season

Meanwhile, the record-breaking Jacob Stockdale managed to beat James Ryan to the Young Player of the Year award.

Keith Earls celebrates winning with his daughters Ella May and Laurie Keith Earls with daughters Ella May and Laurie on a momentous day in Twickenham. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

RUGBY PLAYERS IRELAND’s annual awards took place tonight, and Munster wing Keith Earls was the toast of his peers as he was voted Players’ Player of the Year.

Already Munster’s Player of the Year, the 30-year-old was nominated alongside the Lions trio of Tadhg Furlong, Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton. The three runners-up merited much attention and acclaim during Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign, but it’s testament to Earls that he won out in the player vote.

Earls hit sensational form during Ireland’s summer tour, scoring four tries against the US and Japan last June and creating many more openings with his power and pace.

Keith Earls makes a try saving tackle on Mattia Bellini Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He has barely eased off the pedal since, hitting his best form during the Six Nations when he aided Ireland’s push for silverware with a lung-busting try-saving tackle (when the win over Italy was all but secured) a clever try-saving tap-tackle (when England could still have swung momentum their way) and a nerveless catch and immediate carry off Sexton’s cross-field kick when Ireland mounted one last push for victory in Paris.

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For Munster, the Limerick man has scored six tries this season, most recently the electric finish against Edinburgh after Simon Zebo’s game-breaking improvisational skill.

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“It has been a great season with many special memories for me,” says Earls.

“For all the successes, there were some challenges along the way too and so it means a lot to get the recognition of my fellow players across the country. I’ve given it my all, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my teammates, friends and of course my family.”

Meanwhile, the Nevin Spence Young Players Award went to Ireland’s other wing as the record-setting Jacob Stockdale seen off the formidable – and still unbeaten as a professional – James Ryan as well as 20-year-old European champion Jordan Larmour.

With the crucial Champions Cup playoff against Ospreys still ahead, Stockdale has already matched last season’s tally of nine tries for Ulster.

It’s in a green jersey where Stockdale has really shone, however, and his handy knack of grabbing intercepts at vital times helped him set a new Six Nations try-scoring record with seven scores in Ireland’s Grand Slam push.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

With another three tries scored in the November Tests, Stockdale has ensured Ireland’s single-season try-scoring record tumbled for the second year running after Earls posted nine in the 2016/17 campaign.

Stockdale was also nominated for the Try of the Year award at tonight’s ceremony, but that gong instead went to the set-piece move that sent CJ Stander driving for the Twickenham try-line from supporters player of year Bundee Aki’s pass.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

In a difficult season for Ireland Women, Claire Molloy, the tireless openside and captain during the World Cup was named Player of the Year. Lucy Mulhall, also captain in her field, took Sevens Player of the Year.

Claire Molloy on her way to scoring a try Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Other awards on the night brought recognition for Grenoble hooker Duncan Casey as he was given the Medal for Excellence – rewarding on and off-field commitment to the game.  Jack McGrath’s work in his community was highlighted with the Zurich Contribution to Irish Society award.

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Sean Farrell

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