Keith Earls caps stellar season with Player of the Year award

Munster and Ireland winger has played superbly for both province and country

Keith Earls with his Irish Players’ Player of the Year 2018 award at the Zurich Irish Rugby Awards. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Keith Earls with his Irish Players’ Player of the Year 2018 award at the Zurich Irish Rugby Awards. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

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Keith Earls has been awarded the Irish Players’ Player of the Year for 2018 by his fellow players at the Zurich Irish Rugby Awards ceremony in Dublin. The 30-year-old Munster and Ireland winger received the award for the first time after a superb season for province and country.

Earls was a member of Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning Under-20 team in 2007, and made a try-scoring debut for Ireland against Canada at Thomond Park in 2008. His season is all the sweeter for having missed out on the 2009 Grand Slam and also the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations titles through injury.

Earls maintained a rich vein of form from last summer’s tour, when scoring four tries in three Tests, and started every game in the Six Nations, scoring his 27th Test try against Italy. Other standout moments were his crucial catch, and ensuing footwork, when gathering Johnny Sexton’s crosskick in overtime during that 41-phase drive in Paris which culminated in Sexton’s winning drop goal, and the way he chased down Mattia Bellini in the last play of the game against Italy.

Try-scorer

He has also been in consistently good form for Munster, scoring six tries in 10 games this season. Earls is Ireland’s fourth-highest try-scorer of all time and his 45 in 151 games makes him the second-highest for Munster. Earls was chosen ahead of last year’s winner Conor Murray, and Leinster’s Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong.

Earls is the 16th winner of this prestigious award, and on receiving his award he commented: “It has been a great season with many special memories for me. For all the successes, there were some challenges along the way too, and so it means a lot to get the recognition of my fellow players across the country. I’ve given it my all, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my teammates, friends and of course my family.”

Seven tries

Unsurprisingly, Jacob Stockdale was voted the Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year after scoring a record seven tries in the Six Nations. The Women’s XVs Player of the Year, as voted by members of the Ireland squad, was presented to Claire Molloy, while the Irish 7s captain Lucy Mulhall claimed the Rugby Players Ireland Women’s 7s Player of the Year.

The Supporters’ Player of the Year, as voted by the public, was Connacht’s Bundee Aki. Brian O’Driscoll was inducted into the Irish Rugby Players Association’s Hall of Fame. Duncan Casey, who departed Munster for Grenoble in recent months, was awarded the Medal for Excellence, while the Contribution to Irish Society award was presented to Jack McGrath in recognition of his work in his community.

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