Crockett hails Coles' player of year nod
REACTION: Front-row forwards are rarely in contention for individual prizes, so it was understandable that Dane Coles' nomination for World Rugby's Player of the Year award was labelled "awesome" by New Zealand teammate Wyatt Crockett.
There was some good news for the All Blacks as the world champions landed in Italy on Monday after a 29-40 defeat by Ireland in Chicago had ended their record-breaking run of 18 successive Test wins.
Both hooker Coles and flyhalf Beauden Barrett are among the six nominees for World Rugby's top individual honour.
But while backs are often lauded - the reigning World Player of the Year is Barrett's All Blacks predecessor Dan Carter, a three-time winner now retired from Test rugby - such trophies rarely come the way of players with numbers one to three on their shirts.
Indeed the only front row forward to have collected the World Rugby crown was Ireland's Keith Wood, the now-retired hooker chosen as the global governing body's inaugural Player of the Year in 2001.
"It's awesome to see Colesey getting nominated for that," New Zealand prop Crockett told AFP in Rome, where the All Blacks will look to return to winning ways against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
"He has been playing great footy all this year and the last couple of years so it is thoroughly deserved."
Crockett jokingly added: "He probably gets a little bit more kudos than some of his propping mates!"
But on a more serious note, he praised the perseverance of the 29-year-old Hurricanes hooker, now a veteran of 47 Tests.
"When he came into the All Blacks he had spent a long time trying to get in there and when he came into the group he was really ready to go," Crockett explained.
"He has obviously got a bit more experience and confidence to play his natural game, which you see now."
That includes Coles' ability to act as an auxiliary back. His nomination citation, from a judging panel chaired by Wallaby great John Eales, states Coles is the "epitome of the modern-day front row, with his strength, speed and mobility often seeing him pop up on the wing to finish off a flowing move".
Also nominated for the award, which will be presented in London on Sunday, are the England trio of Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and the currently injured Maro Itoje.
They all played key roles as England won their first nine Tests under Eddie Jones, as well as helping London club Saracens complete an English and European title double.
England's unbeaten record under Australian coach Jones will be put to the test against South Africa at Twickenham this weekend.
Rounding off the Player of the Year shortlist is Ireland loose forward Jamie Heaslip.
It was the No.8 who provided the ideal pass off a scrum that sent in centre Robbie Henshaw for the match-clinching try as Ireland ended their 111-year winless streak against New Zealand at Chicago's Soldier Field last Saturday.
Previous World Rugby Men's Player of the Year Award winners:
2015 - Dan Carter (New Zealand)
2014 – Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)
2013 – Kieran Read (New Zealand)
2012 – Dan Carter (New Zealand)
2011 – Thierry Dusautoir (France)
2010 – Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
2009 – Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
2008 – Shane Williams (Wales)
2007 – Bryan Habana (South Africa)
2006 – Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
2005 – Dan Carter (New Zealand)
2004 – Schalk Burger (South Africa)
2003 – Jonny Wilkinson (England)
2002 – Fabien Galthié (France)
2001 – Keith Wood (Ireland)