Tim Visser followed up his inclusion in the RaboDirect PRO12 Dream Team by being named as winner of the tournament’s ‘Players’ Player of the Year’ award at the annual presentation evening at the Hilton Hotel, Cardiff last night (Sunday, 6 May).
His graduation from the ‘Young Player of the Year’ award winner in 2010 to the stand-out star of the current RaboDirect PRO12 season has come despite his club, Edinburgh, struggling to find form on the domestic front. But for the third season running Visser was the competition’s leading try scorer and had scored 36 tries in 56 matches coming into the final round of fixtures this weekend.
In his three seasons at Edinburgh, the Dutch-born former England Under 18 schools cap has been voted ‘Young Player of the Year’, been in the ‘Dream Team’ each season, taken the season’s try record up to 14 and now been voted ‘Player’s Player of the Year’.
Visser followed in the footsteps of Ulster Rugby’s Ruan Pienaar in picking up the top award of the season and can now look forward to winning his first cap for Scotland this summer when he finally completes his residential qualification.
It was a good night for the Scots as Glasgow Warriors’ full back Stuart Hogg was chosen as the ‘Young Player of the Year’ following his outstanding progress during the season. He beat off new England No 8 Ben Morgan, of the Scarlets, and Leinster’s Ian Madigan to step into the shoes filled last season by Wales Grand Slam star and Dragons No 8, Toby Faletau.
The 19-year-old Hogg picked up his award two days after being crowned Glasgow Warriors ‘Young Player of the Season’ and has made a meteoric rise to fame in his first season as a professional. He had played only two games for the Warriors before the 2011/12 campaign began, but going into Round 22 he had played 14 matches and scored four tries, including a hat-trick against reigning champions Munster at Thomond Park. He also won four caps for Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations.
The Warriors, who had three players named in the ‘Dream Team’, also became the inaugural winners of the ‘Rhino Collision Kings’ title after a panel of experts assessed their efficiency at the breakdown and tackling.
Double-chasing Leinster picked up three awards as they received a timely boost ahead of their push for back-to-back Heineken Cup wins and a first RaboDirect PRO12 Final triumph. Joe Schmidt took over from Munster’s Tony McGahan as the ‘Coach of the Year’ and Jonathan Sexton won the battle of the kickers to take home the ‘Rhino Golden Boot’.
Schmidt steered Leinster to the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table to clinch home advantage in the Play-Offs and also guided the reigning European champions to their third Heineken Cup final in four seasons. On Saturday they will face Glasgow Warriors in the RaboDirect PRO12 Play-Off semi-finals at the RDS (kick-off 7.35pm).
Sexton replaced Irish outside half rival Ronan O’Gara as the winner of the ‘Rhino Golden Boot’, presented to the most consistent marksman in the competition. He ended with a 90% goalkicking success rate from his six appearances, including a run of 13 successive goals.
Leinster also picked up another £10,000 cheque to put towards youth development after winning the ‘SpecSavers Fair Play Award’ for the second season in a row for having the fewest yellow and red cards and citings over the 22 games.
Ospreys legend Shane Williams picked up the ‘Chairman’s Award’ from RaboDirect PRO12 chairman Andy Irvine as he counts down to the end of his incredible career. He helped the Ospreys win three RaboDirect PRO12 titles and also played in the Neath side that lost to Munster in the 2003 final.
He scored a record 58 tries for Wales in 87 Tests and a further two for the British & Irish Lions in four more Test appearances on two tours. He was also voted IRB World Player of the Year in 2008 after helping Wales win a second Grand Slam in four years.
He is due to end his professional career this month when the Ospreys take on Munster in the first RaboDirect PRO12 Play-Off semi-final at the Liberty Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm). If they win that game then his farewell appearance for his club could be in the RaboDirect PRO12 Final on the weekend of 26/27 May.
The other Welsh winner on the night was international referee Nigel Owens. He was awarded the inaugural ‘RaboDirect Straight Talking’ title for the no-nonsense way in which he communicated with players throughout the season.
RaboDirect PRO12 Dream Team 2011/12:Isa Nacewa (Leinster); Tim Visser (Edinburgh), Casey Laulala (Cardiff Blues), Ashley Beck (Ospreys),Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues); Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster); Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), BJ Botha (Munster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster), Tom Ryder (Glasgow Warriors), Dave Denton (Edinburgh), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Ben Morgan (Scarlets)
RABODIRECT PRO12 AWARD WINNERS 2011/12
PLAYER’S PLAYER OF THE SEASON Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby)
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors)
COACH OF THE SEASON Joe Schmidt (Leinster Rugby)
CHAIRMAN’S AWARD Shane Williams (Ospreys)
RHINO GOLDEN BOOT Jonathan Sexton (Leinster Rugby)
RHINO COLLISION KINGS Glasgow Warriors
SPECSAVERS FAIRPLAY AWARD Leinster Rugby
RABODIRECT STRAIGHT TALKING AWARD Nigel Owens
TRY OF THE SEASON Hanno Dirksen (Ospreys)