The year of the women
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Black Ferns' success at the World Rugby Awards in Monaco is proof of the massive strides the women's game are taking.
The World Champion Black Ferns became the first women’s team to win the coveted Team of the Year award - beating their male counterparts New Zealand and Eddie Jones' England.
The win is not only huge for the Black Ferns but it is a massive achievement for the women's rugby.
The amateur team - paid pros on the seven circuit - comprised of students, teachers and police officers etc. who are forced to balance their day jobs and rugby passion for mediocre players' pay packets.
However, they have proven that their selflessness and love for the jersey goes beyond money and accolades.
The Blacks Ferns have won the World Cup five times and lost just once this season to England.
As Scotty Stevenson wrote for the Rugbypass, the Black Ferns' gong " is a wake-up call to every other game that marketing dollars and merit are not the same things,"
New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew congratulated the Black Ferns on their historic, and thrilling, success.
"The Black Ferns have earned their place as the world's best team - and to be the first women's team to win Team of the Year is a fitting tribute to their talent, dedication and hard work. This has been an outstanding year for our women’s rugby teams, and the international recognition that our players and teams have received is totally deserved.
"The Black Ferns win of the Women’s World Cup was a truly inspiration effort, and the final against England was one of the most exciting games of rugby I’ve seen. I know that their success will lead to the continued growth of the women’s game and I look forward to seeing more women and girls follow in the footsteps of this outstanding Black Ferns team," Tew added.
Aside from the Black Ferns victory, Joy Neville walked away with the honour of referee of the year.
A veteran of 70 Tests as a player, former Ireland No.8 and captain Neville is now creating history in the world of refereeing in a year that has seen her take charge of the Women's Rugby World Cup final in August and referee her first men's international in Rugby Europe's Conference 2 North in October.
The 2013 Grand Slam winner follows in the footsteps of her Spanish refereeing colleague Alhambra Nievas who was a joint winner of the coveted World Rugby award last year with South Africa's Rasta Rasivhenge.
Delighted to receive such a global honour, Neville said: "It's amazing. I retired from playing in 2013 after we won the Grand Slam and to think that I'm stood here after refereeing the Women's World Cup final, I've a lot of people to thank for that and a lot of organisations.
"But it's mostly down to my beautiful wife Simona, who is down there, and my family. I'm completely honoured to be here to receive this award tonight. Thank you to everybody who has supported me throughout this journey,"
She added: "It's all about knocking those hurdles down, isn't it? It's all about breaking the barriers and creating opportunities for other females or males to come through. I thoroughly enjoy a challenge and once you're enjoying what you're doing, keep at it. And I'm really enjoying what I'm doing right night,"
Neville broke more new ground as an assistant referee for the men's international between France and Japan in Nanterre on Saturday night. Asked about her next goals as a referee, she highlighted her ambition to referee in the PRO14 and to officiate in the Six Nations Championship.
Source: Rugbypass & @IrishRugby