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Ulster's Rory Best is in frame for top player award from his peers

By Michael Sadlier

Published 22/04/2016

Shortlisted: Rory Best in final four for the IRU Players Association Players’ Player of the Year award
Shortlisted: Rory Best in final four for the IRU Players Association Players’ Player of the Year award

Ulster's Rory Best and Stuart McCloskey are in the running for top accolades after being nominated for separate honours at this year's Irish Rugby Union Players' Association (IRUPA) awards night.

Best has been named on the shortlist for the Zurich-sponsored IRUPA Players' Player of the Year with the Ulster and Ireland skipper going up against Robbie Henshaw, Jack McGrath and CJ Stander for the ultimate prize which will be presented in Dublin on May 4.

McCloskey is up for the Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year with Leinster's rising stars Garry Ringrose and Josh Van Der Flier also nominated.

This year marks the first time that the four shortlisted players for the senior award are part of each of the Irish provincial set-ups though the absence of Henshaw's Connacht team-mate Bundee Aki has raised eyebrows as the Kiwi has had an outstanding season for Pat Lam's high-flying side.

Best is up against a formidable line-up with loose-head prop McGrath having had a mighty season for Ireland while flanker Stander's international bow was also attention-grabbing through his powerful ball-carrying.

Leinster-bound Henshaw -who has made the shortlist for the second successive year - has also further showcased his great talent, both for Connacht and Ireland, but Best showed up strongly at the World Cup and in his first Six Nations campaign as Ireland captain even though Joe Schmidt's side failed to secure a third straight title.

The 33-year-old hooker will be hoping to follow Paul O'Connell, who won last year, while also emulating former Ulster winners of the top IRUPA award Andrew Trimble and Nick Williams who secured the vote of their fellow professionals in 2014 and 2013 respectively, while Tommy Bowe has topped the poll twice in 2010 and back in 2008.

As for the Young Player of the Year - an award Henshaw secured on the last three occasions - the trio of nominees have had notable success this season at their respective provinces with both hard-running centre McCloskey, who is currently nursing a shoulder injury, and flanker Van Der Flier making their international debuts in the recent Six Nations. Ten awards will be given out at the ceremony and the remaining eight are: The Volkswagen Try of the Year, The Irish Times Supporters' Player of the Year, the Zurich Contribution to Irish Society Award, the BNY Mellon Women's XV Player of the Year, the IRUPA Women's 7's Player of the Year, the Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa Moment of the Year, the Vodafone Medal for Excellence and the BNY Mellon Hall of Fame award.

Meanwhile, former Scotland skipper Mike Blair will take up a coaching role with Glasgow after announcing his retirement.

The 35-year-old has admitted he will not play again after a bout of concussion ended his career weeks earlier than planned.

The scrum-half will step up to an assistant coach role under Gregor Townsend after calling time on a 14-year career in the professional game.

Blair said: "It was always my intention to move into a coaching role and although there was an opportunity to play on next year, I believe now is the right time for me to make that change.

"I had originally planned to retire at the end of last season, but I'm glad Gregor persuaded me to play on at Glasgow.

"I've really enjoyed the season and it's a brilliant environment to be part of. With only a few games left this season, I have unfortunately run out of time to be able to regain my fitness before the end of this campaign."

Blair won 85 Scotland caps, 14 of them as captain, before retiring from the international scene in 2013.

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