The first nominees have been revealed for the World Rugby Awards 2017, which take place at the Salle des Etoiles in Monte Carlo on 26 November.
The World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year 2017 is the first of the shortlists to be announced with the rest being released in stages over the coming weeks.
The three nominees for this prestigious award are Argentina winger Emiliano Boffelli, New Zealand winger Rieko Ioane and France centre Damian Penaud. This award was won last year by England second-row Maro Itoje and in 2015 by New Zealand’s Nehe Milner-Skudder.
In order to be eligible for this award, players must have played less than one year of senior international rugby, with former internationals Felipe Contepomi and Melodie Robinson among the panellists selecting the shortlist.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “The World Rugby Awards celebrate excellence in rugby, honouring the world’s greatest players, coaches and teams as well as those who have given so much to the sport. The past year has produced some amazing performances by all the best men’s and women’s teams, in both 15s and sevens, so I expect voting for the 2017 awards will be very close and hard-fought.
“The breakthrough player category is always interesting because it gives us a sneak preview of what young talent is out there and who the game’s future big names are likely to be. It’s a great achievement even to receive a nomination for a short-list so each of these three exciting young players should feel proud for getting to this stage of the process.”
World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year voting panel member Felipe Contepomi said: “The competition in this particular category this year has been very high and it has been extremely tough to select these nominees. It’s been a year with many new international appearances of great quality and we would love to see them all playing at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan. To the nominees I say ‘well done, congratulations’ and to young players everywhere ‘keep up your hard work’.”
This is one of 12 categories of awards, including the World Rugby Men’s and Women’s Players of the Year, World Rugby Team of the Year, World Rugby Men’s and Women’s Sevens Players of the Year and Award for Character.
EMILIANO BOFFELLI (ARGENTINA)
This product of the Argentina youth system, Boffelli represented his country at U18, U19 and U20 level before a knee injury threatened to sideline him indefinitely. But he came back stronger and quicker than ever and made his full international debut for the Pumas this year. Capable of playing all positions in the backline, the gifted footballer has settled down very well on the wing for the Argentinian national side. Good on the air, solid on defence and capable of nailing long distances goal kicks, the 22-year-old is a great asset for the Pumas and has a bright future ahead of him.
RIEKO IOANE (NEW ZEALAND)
The winger marked his New Zealand debut last November with a try against Italy, but it is in 2017 that he has truly made his mark on the test arena with eight tries in as many starts. The 20-year-old scored twice in his first start against the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park and claimed another double in his first Bledisloe Cup match in August. With pace and strength to burn, Ioane finished the Rugby Championship as joint-top try-scorer with five after beating the most defenders, making the most clean breaks and metres in the competition.
DAMIAN PENAUD (FRANCE)
The son of former France international Alain, the 21-year-old has long been talked of as a player to watch and his impressive performances for Clermont and France U20s since 2015 earned him his test debut against South Africa in June. The centre immediately repaid Guy Noves’ faith in him with a try in that 37-15 defeat in Durban, as he showcased his pace, impressive step, vision to spot a gap and confidence to back himself at the very highest level.