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Parting prize is bestowed onto Ulster fans' favourite Nick Williams

Williams named Personality of the Year at rugby's gala night of glittering prizes

By Jonathan Bradley

Departing Nick Williams was named the Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year at the team's annual awards dinner in the Culloden last night.

The hugely-popular number eight - who will join Pro12 rivals Cardiff Blues in the summer - was rewarded for four years of stellar service at the province since joining from Aironi in 2012.

Having scooped the Pro12 Player of the Year in his first season the bulldozing back-rower - who was capped by his native New Zealand at junior level - enjoyed something of a renaissance this year with his barnstorming displays from the back of the scrum integral to a number of early season wins.

Shoulder surgery means the 32-year-old can play no part in the team's upcoming semi-final with Leinster, and he has already worn the Ulster jersey for a final time, but he received a rousing farewell from the Kingspan faithful after the last home game of the season last month.

He bagged six tries in 19 appearances this season, while collecting a host of man of the match awards, to leave his final Ulster strike-rate as 16 scores from 76 games.

Stuart McCloskey was another big winner on the night as he scooped the Bank of Ireland Player of the Year award.

The Bangor native had a red letter season that saw him win a first Ireland cap when Joe Schmidt's men took on England at Twickenham in February.

The 23-year-old, who only moved to centre from scrum-half after a growth spurt in his teens, made the Ulster 12 jersey his own this year and formed a great partnership in midfield with Luke Marshall.

Scoring four tries in 22 games for his province, he even filled in as goal-kicker during the early part of the season.

Ever-reliable lock Franco van der Merwe was handed the Ulster Rugby Writers' Player of the Year after another season where he racked up the minutes with barely a game's break while prop Kyle McCall's breakthrough season was rewarded with the Young Player gong.

Paddy Jackson's fine form in the ten jersey throughout the year saw him named the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club Player of the Year while Irish under-20 hooker Adam McBurney was recognised as the stand-out player from the team's academy.

Away from the senior side, there was plenty of recognition for those throughout the game.

Bangor's all-conquering season saw them return to the senior ranks, as well as landing a domestic treble, and brought a much deserved Club of the Year award for the Co Down side.

Enniskillen's Kathryn Dane was recognised as the Errigle Inn's Women's Player of the Year with Dan Carson named the best referee.

Wallace scrum-half Jonathan Stewart is the Schools' Player of the Year with Rodger McBurney winning the equivalent award for the club game.

The inaugural SONI Community Rugby Champion Award went to Willie Gribben of Portadown RFC. Former teacher Gribben has worked tirelessly as chairman of Portadown Panthers Learning Disability Tag Rugby.

Roll of honour (winners first)

Ulster Carpets Youth Player of the Year: John McCusker (Rainey); Joseph Dunleavy (Letterkenny RFC); Paul Mullan (Armagh RFC)

Danske Bank Schools' Player of the Year: Jonathan Stewart (Wallace High School), Marcus Rea (Ballymena Academy), Tom O'Toole (Campbell College)

SONI Community Rugby Champion Award: Willie Gribben (Portadown RFC), Grace Davitt (Cooke), Katie Speers (Ballymoney RFC), Stephen Nutt (Ards RFC).

Dorrington B Faulkner Award (sponsored by Perennials RFC): John Merritt (Inishowen RFC)

Ken Goodall Club Player of the Year: Rodger McBurney (Ballymena RFC), Aaron Cairns (Ballynahinch RFC), Mathew Rea (Ballymena RFC)

The Errigle Inn Women's Player of the Year : Kathryn Dane (Enniskillen RFC), Colette Broome (Queen's University RFC), Grace Davitt (Cooke RFC).

Autotrader Referee of the Year: Daniel Carson

Kukri Sports Club of the Year: Bangor RFC, Carrickfergus RFC, Enniskillen RFC

Hughes Insurance Academy Player of the Year: Adam McBurney, Johnny McPhillips, Jacob Stockdale

URSC Player of the Year: Paddy Jackson, Stuart McCloskey, Nick Williams

Rugby Writers' Player of the Year: Franco van der Merwe, Nick Williams, Craig Gilroy

BT Young Player of the Year: Kyle McCall, Rory Scholes, Jacob Stockdale

Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year: Stuart McCloskey, Rob Herring, Paddy Jackson.

Heineken Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year: Nick Williams

Belfast Telegraph


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