England forward Maro Itoje and women's captain Sarah Hunter both won coveted gongs at the annual World Rugby awards at the Hilton London Metropole Hotel on Sunday (13 November).
Itoje, 22, was named breakthrough player of year after a stunning 12 months in England colours, in which he helped the Red Rose to win the Six Nations crown and secure a 3-0 series whitewash of Australia. Meanwhile, Hunter won the women's player of the year prize after she was an ever-present figure for her country throughout the 12-month period.
England coach Eddie Jones believes Itoje has the potential to become the best player on the planet. "He's a brilliant young player and this award is a testament to his ability and now it's about how hard he works to convert that to be a truly world class player in the future. I'm sure he has that attitude to do it," Jones said, according to the Evening Standard.
"The staff and whole team are so pleased for him to win the award and we are really proud of him. No doubt he can become the best if he works hard enough. He is dedicated, he chases to be great and he chases to be world class."
Itoje, for his part, admitted he can get even better in the coming years. "I'm very humbled, very honoured and very happy to win. I'd like to thank the England team and my club Saracens for all the support I've had," Itoje said. "I hope there's more to come, I'd be disappointed if I've peaked already. The last 12 months have gone really well, so I can't complain."
The awards were, however, largely dominated by the all-conquering All Blacks side, who won their second successive World Cup crown in 2015. New Zealand fly-half Beauden Barrett won the men's player of the year award, becoming the fifth successive Kiwi to claim the title following Dan Carter (2012 and 2015), Kieran Read (2013) and Brodie Retallick (2014).
Elsewhere, World Cup-winning All Blacks boss Steve Hansen was named coach of the year, with his fearsome New Zealand side being named team of the year after setting a new record for winning 18 successive Tests.
List of World Rugby award winners:
Men's Player of the Year - Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
Women's Player of the Year - Sarah Hunter (England)
Team of the Year - New Zealand
Coach of the Year - Steve Hansen (New Zealand)
Breakthrough Player of the Year - Maro Itoje (England)
Men's Sevens Player of the Year - Seabelo Senatla (South Africa)
Women's Sevens Player of the Year - Charlotte Caslick (Australia)
Referee Award - Alhambra Nievas (Spain) and Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service - Syd Millar
Award for Character Rugby Opens Borders - Austrian Rugby Union
IRPA Special Merit Award - Jean de Villiers (South Africa)