George Ford

George Ford on his way to scoring a try

The International Rugby Board has unveiled the shortlist of three nominees for the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2011 Award in association with Emirates Airline.

The nominees were selected following the recent record-breaking IRB Junior World Championship held in Italy, the most competitive edition of the Under 20 tournament to date.

Winners New Zealand have Sam Cane and Luke Whitelock in the shortlist, while runners-up England, who pushed the champions all the way in a scintillating final in Padova, are represented by fly half George Ford.

The shortlist represents the voting of team head coaches and match officials, as well as international and local media at the tournament.

Speaking about his nomination, Ford says that it was team effort in Italy: “It’s a massive honour to be nominated for the award, especially when you consider that the likes of All Blacks regulars Luke McAllister and Isaia Toeava are among previous winners.

“It was a massive team effort over there though, and while we were gutted not to win the whole thing, we performed well throughout and can take a lot from the competition. I can’t take too much credit for the nomination, we had a squad of 26 players who all played their part.

“Sam Cane and Luke Whitelock are both good players who I have massive respect for and they both deserve their nominations. A lot of our squad will be back next year ready to give it another go.”

IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “These three players excelled in Italy and they reflect the exciting talent that was on show in a tournament which continues to go from strength to strength. The quality of rugby played in Italy shows the important role this tournament plays in developing the future stars of the world Game.”

The winner will be announced at the IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline in Auckland on October 24.

Sam Cane (New Zealand)

A member of New Zealand’s impressive and hard-working loose forward trio in Italy, Sam Cane was the first player to score a hat-trick at Junior World Championship 2011 with his efforts in the Baby Blacks’ 92-0 rout of Wales in round two. One of a handful of players in the New Zealand Under 20 squad with any Super Rugby experience, the Waikato Chiefs flanker’s potential was recognised early and saw him become the first schoolboy to be nominated for the national age grade player of the year accolade back in 2009.

George Ford (England)

The youngest player in the tournament, George Ford’s skills and vision belie his tender age of 18 years and three months. Described as a “very mature player” and someone who “sets the tone in the squad” by England Under 20 coach Rob Hunter, Ford always seems to have options and more often than not takes the right one. The youngest player ever to play a professional match in England, the Leicester Tigers teenager played a key role in England’s run to the final and scored 51 points in the tournament.

Luke Whitelock (New Zealand)

A true leader on and off the pitch and always ready to put his body on the line for the team, Luke Whitelock lifted the distinctive trophy in Padova after guiding New Zealand to a fourth successive title. One of a very select few to have two winners’ medals to his name, Whitelock is a danger at both flanker and number 8 with his work rate and game sense. The youngest of four rugby playing brothers, two of whom are already All Blacks, Luke has the potential to be the best of the lot.

Previous Winners

2010 – IRB Junior Player of the Year: Julian Savea (New Zealand)

2009 – IRB Junior Player of the Year: Aaron Cruden (New Zealand)

2008 – IRB Junior Player of the Year: Luke Braid (New Zealand)

2007 – IRB International U19 Player of the Year: Robert Fruean (New Zealand)

2006 – IRB International U19 Player of the Year: Josh Holmes (Australia)

2006 – IRB International U21 Player of the Year: Lionel Beauxis (France)

2005 – IRB International U19 Player of the Year: Isaia Toeava (New Zealand)

2005 – IRB International U21 Player of the Year: Tatafu Polota-Nau (Australia)

2004 – IRB International U19 Player of the Year: Jeremy Thrush (New Zealand)

2004 – IRB International U21 Player of the Year in association with Waterford Crystal: Jerome Kaino (New Zealand)

2003 – IRB U19 Player of the Year: Jean Baptiste Payras (France)

2003 – IRB U21 Player of the Year in assoc. with Waterford Crystal: Ben Atiga (New Zealand)

2002 – IRB U19 Player of the Year: Luke McAlister (New Zealand)

2002 – IRB U21 Player of the Year, in assoc. with Waterford: Pat Barnard (South Africa)

2001 – IRB Young Player of the Year: Gavin Henson (Wales)