The Black Ferns have scooped the big awards at a glittering ceremony in Monaco this morning, with director of rugby Wayne Smith named coach of the year, captain Ruahei Demant player of the year and Ruby Tui winning best breakthrough player.
It represented an extra triumph for the Black Ferns, who battled back from their lows of last year to defend their World Cup title against all the odds.
Demant, the first-five who navigated her side to their dramatic World Cup final victory over England at Eden Park recently, said: “It’s great to be here tonight with so many of my teammates. We’ve never done this before so we’ re having a lot of fun tonight and we’re looking forward to the rest of the night.
“I come from a very small place and to be able to put on the black jersey was always a dream but I never thought I’d play for the Black Ferns as a kid. Like most women my age now, women’s rugby was never accessible , was never something you could aspire to because you never had role models you could look up to.
“That was one of the great things about this World Cup – one, it was free to air so everyone could watch it, and people could turn on the telly or go to the games and see people that looked like them – there were so many strong women out there doing amazing things.”
She added: “Twelve months ago we came up here to the Northern Hemisphere and got wasted. In that 12-month period [since]we’ve been able to completely transform the way that we think about footy and the way that we play.
“A lot of that was down to our coach Smithy and the courage that he instilled in us.
“Not only that, we had a great bunch of girls who put their heart and soul on the line for everyone regardless of whether or not we were playing. We got the job done and we had a lot of fun doing it.”
Smith said via a video message he was “uncomfortable” receiving the award given the quality of the other candidates; Ireland coach Andy Farrell, France coach Fabien Galthié and England women’s coach Simon Middleton, who took the Red Roses on a 30-Test winning run until they fell to the Black Ferns in the nailbiting final.
Smith was appointed this year after previous coach Glenn Moore signed following a damning review of the side’s culture and performance.
“I feel uncomfortable receiving this given the quality of the other nominations,” Smith said. “But I feel honoured. At the start I felt like a grandfather taking his granddaughters to Disneyland such was their excitement about him. But the women turned into warriors, they were magnificent.”
Tui, like Demant, appeared in person and won the breakthrough award along with Italy’s Ange Capuozzo, who won the men’s trophy.
The former sevens star, who impressed hugely this year with her workrate on the field and charisma off it, said: “It’s amazing to be here, it’s a whirlwind, I’m so proud of New Zealand. It’s such an honor to win this award, at 27 and a half years old, I think I’ve set a record for the rookie.”
Tui was also presented with a replacement World Cup winners’ medal after she gave hers away to a young fan after the final.
The Black Ferns had four players named in the women’s “dream team”; Tui, Demant, winger Portia Woodman, and midfielder Theresa Fitzpatrick.
The All Blacks had only two named: lock Sam Whitelock and winger Will Jordan.
Former Black Fern and NZ Rugby board member Dr Farah Palmer was the recipient of the 2022 Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service.