The World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 Awards celebrated the very best of the season which saw Fiji crowned series champions at the Stade Jean-Bouin in Paris on Sunday.
This season has been one of the most competitive yet with just two points separating first and second placed Fiji and USA going into the final event of 2019.
Fiji head coach Gareth Baber’s outfit marched on to cap their series-clinching day with the tournament victory after beating New Zealand 35-24 in the Cup final.
This year’s series carried added significance as the principal route to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with the top four teams automatically qualifying alongside host nation Japan.
USA, New Zealand and Fiji booked their spots at the London Sevens last week and South Africa completed the line-up in Paris this weekend.
The annual HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Awards celebrated the athletes, coaches, teams and moments that played such a pivotal role in inspiring a new generation of players and fans this season.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont commented: "This has been the biggest and best season on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series yet.
"Every player involved in the World Rugby Sevens Series is a tremendous athlete, world class performer and incredible ambassador for the sport and we can’t thank you enough for the commitment and passion that you demonstrate all season-round. You are brilliant role models and play a monumental part in the success and growth that we have seen in rugby sevens over the years.
"The World Rugby Sevens Series Awards are an opportunity for us to celebrate the very best in field, and with four different round winners and the top four teams being the first to book their spots at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, there’s a lot to commend as another season draws to a close."
Jonathan Castleman, Global Head of Brand Partnerships, added: "What a year it has been on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. One of the most tightly contested competitions in years and at both ends of the table.
"On behalf of HSBC I’d like to congratulate all the competing players who gave everything they had right to the final whistle and to those individuals whose performances have been acknowledged this evening.
"As a long-term partner of rugby sevens it is with great pride that we see the sport continue to thrive all over the world with new teams challenging the existing powerhouses of the sport and fans packing into stadiums globally. Just as we have for the duration of our partnership with rugby sevens we are excited to continue to help the sport succeed in all of its goals and we can’t wait to see where, working together, we can go in the future."
Gilbert Top Try Scorer
Having clocked up 52 tries across the World Rugby Sevens Series 2019, USA’s Carlin Isles won the Gilbert Top Try Scorer Award for the second season in a row.
Upon receiving the award, Isles commented: "I am very grateful for this. I thank my team mates and to do it back-to-back is amazing. I had to step up a lot because his role (Perry’s) is big. I train hard and work hard so to and I am ready for any moment so for me it was great to get this."
Rookie of the Year
This award goes to a player who has made their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut in the current season. Players are nominated by an expert panel for their skill and success on the field during their debut year and this season’s award went to Meli Derenalagi of Fiji.
Derenalagi commented: "It means a lot for me and the work we did in training. I want to thank my team mates, for helping me to win this and the motivation they give me. It’s my first series so I am really happy to win this."
The Fair Play award is selected by the match officials and recognises the teams who showcase rugby’s values of integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect, and this year’s award went to France.
TAG Heuer Don’t Crack Under Pressure
This award is given to the player who has shown they have the ability to execute under the intense pressure of rugby sevens. This award was voted for by the fans on social media and went to Pol Pla and Spain for their win against New Zealand in Vancouver earlier this year.
On collecting the award on behalf of his team, Spanish team manager Keith Chapman said: "That try did so much for Spanish rugby so all of us have enjoyed that moment. It made national news and it’s meant there has been a big increase in people getting involved in rugby so what more can we ask for."
DHL Impact Player
This award is for the player who demonstrated the most consistency and deliver the greatest impact against four key criteria – carries, off-loads, line-breaks and tackles.
This year’s winner was Vilimoni Botitu who racked up 356 points, 124 tackles, 24 breaks, 49 offloads and 159 carries.
On collecting the award, Botitu said: "It’s always my friends and family back home that helps motivate me to play well and on and off the field. I am very humbled to win this."
Capgemini Coach of the Series
This season’s Capgemini Coach of the Series award was handed to USA’s Mike Friday whose team secured a second place finish on the 2019 circuit.
Friday commented: "It’s very humbling but it’s a real team effort. I am just the person at the front. The team behind the team is key.
"Our goal was Olympic qualification, breaking the stranglehold of the traditional superpowers. We were aiming at that. We were in it until last but one game. Fiji earned that win and we can grow again so there is plenty more to come from us."
UL Mark of Excellence
In a season packed with so many special moments, this inaugural award celebrates the one that stands out the most. USA’s Danny Barrettt received the award in Paris for his incredible athleticism against New Zealand in Cape Town at the end of last year.
On receiving the award, Barrett commented: "I am definitely very aggressive with my style of play, I grew up with brothers so being the runt of the litter you kind of have to fight for scraps. My style of play brings a different element to the game so it’s great to be able to play like that.
"It was pretty awesome for me as I still watch SportsCenter (ESPN) every night, so to have my moment on there was pretty awesome. I always dreamed to be on that show and have something that I have done be recognised on there."
The Dream Team takes into consideration players’ performances across the season and previous nominations in the individual tournament dream teams.
The seven players making up this season’s Dream Team comprised of: USA’s Ben Pinkelman, Stephen Tomasin, Meli Derenalagi and Aminiasi Tuimaba and Fiji’s Meli Derenalagi, Jerry Tuwai, Folau Niua and Vilimoni Botitu.
Tomasin commented: "It means a lot personally but really it just shows the success of our team this year; it wasn’t just one or two of us, but it was all of us combined throughout the season."
Pinkleman added: "Every stop has been a whirlwind – it’s been an unbelievable season for us. I think anyone on our team could have made the Dream Team as that’s the kind of season that we’ve had."