New Zealand captain Aaron Cruden has today been named the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2009, the second of the prestigious IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline to be presented this year.
Cruden follows in the footsteps of countryman Luke Braid, who scooped the Award in 2008 and continues the domination of New Zealand players in the IRB Junior Player of the Year Award category in recent years.
The 20-year-old guided New Zealand to their second successive IRB Junior World Championship final against England and then led by example, scoring two tries and creating another three as they triumphed 44-28 in Tokyo.
He had produced a similar performance in the semi final against Australia four days earlier, creating two tries in as many minutes to turn the match in New Zealand's favour and kicking 11 points in the 31-17 victory.
Cruden's composure, vision and inspirational leadership of a new-look New Zealand squad at the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 in Japan were the outstanding qualities which saw him claim the coveted Award ahead of his New Zealand team-mate Winston Stanley, England number 8 Carl Fearns and scrum half Richard Kingi of Australia.
He is the latest New Zealander to win the IRB Age Grade Award with previous winners Isaia Toeava, Jerome Kaino and Luke McAlister all having gone on to play for the All Blacks.
“It is a huge honour to be named the best player for this age group at the Under 20 level and I am just extremely honoured and I suppose the hard work that I have put in has paid off now,” said Cruden.
New Zealand coach Dave Rennie labelled Cruden “worth his weight in gold to us” before adding: “I have been lucky enough to have a lot to do with Aaron. He is a very special player. He was very good against Australia and sensational today.
“He is fairly inspirational, so he can put people in space around him or spot space in behind or an opportunity to run and it gives the team a lot of confidence having a guy like him at number 10.”
Mike Miller, IRB Chief Executive in Japan to present the Award, added: “The IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship has shown just how good the next group of senior international players could be, and the IRB Junior Player of the Year Award is essential in recognising achievement at this level. Aaron Cruden can be very proud to have won the Award with so many excellent players taking part here.”
England captain Ollie Phillips was named IRB Sevens Player of the Year last month, leaving 11 of the 13 coveted IRB Award categories still to be announced. In the exciting new format for the IRB Awards, winners will be named throughout the year, culminating in the announcement of the prestigious IRB Player, Coach and Team of the Year in November.
2008 - IRB Junior Player of the Year: Luke Braid (New Zealand)
2007 - IRB International U19 Player of the Year: Robert Fruean (New Zealand)
2006 - IRB International U19 Player of the Year: Josh Holmes (Australia)
2006 - IRB International U21 Player of the Year: Lionel Beauxis (France)
2005 - IRB International U19 Player of the Year: Isaia Toeava (New Zealand)
2005 - IRB International U21 Player of the Year: Tatafu Polota-Nau (Australia)
2004 - IRB International U19 Player of the Year: Jeremy Thrush (New Zealand)
2004 - IRB International U21 Player of the Year in association with Waterford Crystal: Jerome Kaino (New Zealand)
2003 - IRB U19 Player of the Year: Jean Baptiste Payras (France)
2003 - IRB U21 Player of the Year in assoc. with Waterford Crystal: Ben Atiga (New Zealand)
2002 - IRB U19 Player of the Year: Luke McAlister (New Zealand)
2002 - IRB U21 Player of the Year, in assoc. with Waterford: Pat Barnard (South Africa)
2001 - IRB Young Player of the Year: Gavin Henson (Wales)