All Blacks named Halberg Award winners after their Rugby World Cup triumph
After creating history by becoming the first team to successfully defend the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have claimed New Zealand's highest sporting honour at the Halberg Awards.
The Rugby World Cup champions were named the team of the year for their achievements in 2015, before being presented the supreme Halberg Award by Valerie Adams and Willie Apiata in a ceremony at Vector Arena in Auckland on Thursday night.
Their success came just a day after their now retired captain Richie McCaw was named New Zealander of the Year.
To win the nation's top sporting honour, the All Blacks headed off four other contenders - world No 1 golfer Lydia Ko, who claimed the sportswoman of the year award; Black Cap Kane Williamson, who was named sportsman of the year; and para-swimmer Sophie Pascoe, who won the disabled sportsperson of the year award.
"To win the Halberg Supreme Award, it doesn't get any better than that in New Zealand sport," McCaw said, after the win.
"A night like tonight is not about making one win better than the other. The calibre of the men and women in the room tonight was pretty awesome. Just to be able to celebrate that, but also to take a moment to reflect, which as sportmsmen we don't do that that well, the success that you have had, all of the hard work has paid off."
McCaw paid tribute to the other finalists, saying he was a fan of all of them and loved watching their success on the world stage.
"The one thing about the top New Zealand sportsmen is they have the same sort of passion and drive for being a Kiwi. Their humbleness, being grateful and taking everything in their stride is similar to the guys we mix with. It makes you pretty proud to be part of that bunch as a Kiwi."
The All Blacks not only became the first team to successfully defend the World Cup in 2015 with their comprehensive win over Australia in the final at Twickenham, they also got the bogey off their backs by winning it away from home soil for the first time, giving long-time servants McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock a great farewell to their test careers. They won all but one of their 15 matches during the year.
For the first time in his career, McCaw admitted it was refreshing to be able to look back and not forward onto the next challenge.
"It is nice to be able to look back without the weight of what is coming hanging over you. They always say that for retired players, the older you get the better you were, so you have just to make sure you don't get too carried away too quick."
Adding to the ABs' celebrations, Steve Hansen was named coach of the year. He has had an unparallelled run of success as national coach, since taking over from Sir Graham Henry after their 2011 World Cup win.
"it is humbling and gratifying," said Hansen. "But this is really a reflection of the team and the people witinin the team and our support staff. If they are not the best in the world, they are among the best."
The All Blacks won the team of the year category ahead of last year's supreme winners, the rowing pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray. The Black Caps, who made the ICC Cricket World Cup final for the first time, and men's 49er yachting crew of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke were also up for the hotly contested category.
Former All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu said that it was awesome to be a member of a special team culture.
"What you saw on test night was just how hard we were willing to work," said the most-capped hooker in All Blacks history.
"How hard we worked to prepare. It was nice to see that all come together. We had a good bunch of men, you could hang out with anyone and get on quite well and that makes the journey even more special."
Ko, who won five LPGA tournaments, claimed her maiden major title at the Evian Championship in France and was named the LPGA player of the year, won sportswoman of the year for a third consecutive year.
The 18-year-old edged out road cyclist Linda Villumsen, swimmer Lauren Boyle and canoeist Lisa Carrington for the title. Ko was also the supreme Halberg winner two years ago, and she has now won at the Halberg Awards for the third straight year.
"I'd like to thank the Halberg foundation for this prestigious award," she said in a video message.
"It is a huge honour to be named sportswoman of the year. Last year has been a fun tour and some of the goals that I had only dreamt of have come true, like winning the Evian Championship, which is my first major. Thanks to all of the fans and all of the support from back home. I couldn't be here without your support."
Black Caps skipper-in-waiting Williamson had an outstanding year, which included five test centuries and three ODI centuries. He won the sportsman award over golfer Danny Lee, All Black Dan Carter and IndyCar driver Scott Dixon.
"i look at the other nominees and a number of others who weren't fortunate enough to be nominated and I can say that it would have been a very difficult thing to choose," said Williamson. "It is definitely very humbling."
Pascoe claimed the disabled sportsperson award after winning three golds, a silver and two bronze medals at the IPC Swimming World Championships.
Her rivals for the award were skier Corey Peters, shooter Michael Johnson and fellow swimmer Nikita Howarth.
Hansen's opponents for the coaching award were Lisa Carrington's coach Gordon Walker, men's 49er crew coach Hamish Willcox, and the Black Caps' Mike Hesson.
The sporting moment of the year, voted by the public, went to cricketer Grant Elliott for his towering six to give the Black Caps victory over South Africa in the World Cup semifinal at Eden Park.
Mike Hesson, who received the award on behalf of Elliott, took the audience back to that special moment.
"The moment was two balls to go and everything on the line," said Hesson.
"No one really knew what was going to happen. When Grant stood up and hit the ball 20 rows back, it was just pure elation and real joy among the group and the crowd. We ran down as quick as we could to get amonst it."
Pole vaulter Eliza McCartney, who broke a world junior record in December, won the emerging talent award and a $10,000 sporting scholarship.
The category, designed to identify and assist a young athlete in their quest to become an Olympic, Paralympic and world champion, was hotly contested by track cyclist Campbell Stewart, basketball player Tai Wynyard and trampolinist Dylan Schmidt.
During the ceremony, retiring Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum was presented with the Sport New Zealand leadership award.
Lance O'Sullivan (horse racing), the late Sir Don Rowlands (rowing), Lesley Rumball (netball) and Mark Sorenson (softball) were all inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.
Ashley Taylor was recognised with the lifetime achievement award for services to athletics.
The Halberg Awards are the nation's pre-eminent event to honour and celebrate sporting excellence by New Zealand teams and athletes.
The awards are the major fundraiser for the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation, the charity set up by Olympic champion Sir Murray Halberg to enhance the lives of physically disabled New Zealanders through sport and recreation.
53RD HALBERG AWARDS WINNERS
Halberg Award: All Blacks (rugby)
Finalists: Kane Williamson (cricket), Lydia Ko (golf), Sophie Pascoe (para-swimming)
Team of the year: All Blacks
Finalists: Black Caps (cricket), Hamish Bond and Eric Murray (rowing), Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (yachting, men's 49er class)
Sportsman of the year: Kane Williamson
Finalists: Dan Carter (rugby), Danny Lee (golf), Scott Dixon (motorsport).
Sportswoman of the year: Lydia Ko
Finalists: Lauren Boyle (swimming), Linda Villumsen (cycling), Lisa Carrington (canoeing)
Disabled sportsperson of the Year winner: Sophie Pascoe (para-swimming)
Finalists: Corey Peters (para-skiing), Michael Johnson (para-shooting), Nikita Howarth (para-swimming)
Emerging talent winner: Eliza McCartney (athletics).
Finalists: Campbell Stewart (cycling), Dylan Schmidt (trampoline), Tai Wynyard (basketball)
Coach of the Year: Steve Hansen (rugby)
Finalists: Gordon Walker (canoeing), Hamish Willcox (yachting), Mike Hesson (cricket).
Sporting moment: Grant Elliott's six for the Black Caps.