Maro Itoje gets breakthrough gong but New Zealand clean up at World Rugby awards
Maro Itoje has been voted breakthrough player of year at the World Rugby awards, but it was an otherwise disappointing evening for England after New Zealand swept the board.
The All Blacks won the three most prestigious categories with Beauden Barrett landing player of the year for 2016, Steven Hansen crowned coach of the year and the double world champions claiming team of the year.
England's Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Itoje had been shortlisted alongside Barrett - Ireland's Jamie Heaslip was also in contention - but it was the gifted 25-year-old fly-half who most impressed the judges.
Barrett becomes the fifth successive Kiwi to receive the award, following in the footsteps of Daniel Carter (2012 and 2015), Kieran Read (2013) and Brodie Retallick (2014).
Setting a new record for winning 18 successive Tests was enough to secure New Zealand the team category, inevitably resulting in further recognition for Hansen.
Easing England's disappointment at missing out on the player, team and coach awards - Eddie Jones was shortlisted alongside Hansen - was Itoje's successful night that recognised his sensational debut year in the Test arena.
The 22-year-old's seven caps have taken in a Grand Slam and 3-0 series whitewash of Australia and he is now one of the first names on Jones' team-sheet, although he misses the current autumn campaign through injury.
Jones believes the Saracens lock can go on to become the best in the world.
"He's a brilliant young player and this award is a testament to his ability and now it's about how hard he works to convert that to be a truly world class player in the future. I'm sure he has that attitude to do it," Jones said.
"The staff and whole team are so pleased for him to win the award and we are really proud of him.
"No doubt he can become the best if he works hard enough. He is dedicated, he chases to be great and he chases to be world class.
"There have been a lot of England players who have risen to a height and then not continued.
"Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes were hailed as the new thing and for whatever reason they haven't achieved those heights.
"We want to make sure Maro achieves those heights consistently and I am sure he will."
Itoje has played for England in the second row and at blindside flanker and has few obvious weaknesses in his game.
"I'm very humbled, very honoured and very happy to win. I'd like to thank the England team and my club Saracens for all the support I've had," Itoje said.
"I hope there's more to come, I'd be disappointed if I've peaked already. The last 12 months have gone really well, so I can't complain."
In a second taste of success at the awards dinner in central London, England captain and number eight Sarah Hunter - a veteran of 83 Tests - scooped the women's player of the year award.
The winners were selected by independent panels, who voted on every match from the RBS 6 Nations through to the start of the November internationals.