The incredible Schalk

As predicted, Schalk Burger was named South African Rugby Player of the Year for the second time, while the Golden Lions’ picked up a hat trick of awards at the SARU annual awards function on Thursday.

Burger (28) was rewarded for his form as he led the Stormers into the Super Rugby play-offs and then returned from a thumb injury to be arguably the outstanding Springbok at the Rugby World Cup.

The blond-haired loose forward’s win was added to the title he claimed in 2004. He becomes only the fifth player to win the title more than once, following in the footsteps of Naas Botha (who won it four times), Uli Schmidt, Bryan Habana and Fourie du Preez (who all won it twice).

He was voted as Player of the Year by South Africa’s accredited rugby media in competition with fellow nominees and Rugby World Cup Springbok team mates Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie and Victor Matfield.

Burger’s award was one of 16 awards won for rugby excellence across all age groups and competitions.

The Golden Lions were named Team of the Year, their coach, John Mitchell, Coach of the Year and their captain, Josh Strauss, Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year.

Pat Lambie (21) was named the Young Player of the Year, building on the fine impression he made in his debut season of 2010 and ending the year as the incumbent Springbok fullback. SA Under-20 captain Arno Botha was named the SA Under-20 Player of the Year.

Cecil Afrika, who was recently named the World Sevens Player of the Year, walked away with the Springbok Sevens Player of the Year.

The Players’ Player of the Year Award went to Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis, while the Try of the Year was awarded to Springbok Sevens flyer Sibusiso Sithole for his tournament-winning score in the final of the Edinburgh Sevens against Australia.

The South African Rugby Union also paid tribute to two retiring Springboks legends. Both John Smit, who has already left South African to take up a contract with English club Saracens, and Victor Matfield played their last Test for the Boks in the quarter-finals at the Rugby World Cup.

There were also rewards Sarel Pretorius (Super Rugby Player of the year), Elgar Watts (Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year) and Lionel Cronje (Vodacom Cup Player of the Year).

Oregan Hoskins, President of SARU, said that the 2011 season was one of the more significant and satisfying seasons in recent years.

“Onfield success of our national and provincial teams will always be of paramount importance, but I believe we have enjoyed a special year in the history of our rugby – perhaps a watershed year,” said Mr Hoskins.

“That’s because our Springbok team has been embraced by all South Africans in a way I have never experienced before. 2011 was the year that fans from all backgrounds stood behind the Boks from the moment the squad was announced. In the past, that kind of affection was dependent on the delivery of a trophy.”

The winners and finalists (where applicable) in all the categories are:

Player of the Year
Winner: Schalk Burger
Finalists: Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Victor Matfield.

Young Player of the Year
Winner: Pat Lambie
Finalists: Johan Goosen, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute.

Team of the Year
Winner: Golden Lions
Finalists: Boland, Springbok Sevens, Stormers, University of Cape Town.

Coach of the Year
Winner: John Mitchell (Golden Lions)
Finalists: Allister Coetzee, Eugene Eloff, John Plumtree, Paul Treu.

Super Rugby Player of the Year
Winner: Sarel Pretorius
Finalists: Gio Aplon (Stormers), Schalk Burger (Stormers), Bismarck du Plessis (The Sharks), Duane Vermeulen (Stormers).

Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year
Winner: Josh Strauss (Golden Lions)
Finalists: Johan Goosen (Cheetahs), Elton Jantjies (Golden Lions), Frederic Michalak (The Sharks), Jaco Taute (Golden Lions).

Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year
Winner: Elgar Watts (Boland)
Finalists: Bolla Conradie (Boland Cavaliers), Danwel Demas (Boland Cavaliers), Willie le Roux (Boland Cavaliers), Luke Watson (EP Kings).

Vodacom Cup Player of the Year
Winner: Lionel Cronje (WP)
Finalists: Marnitz Boshoff (Blue Bulls), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks XV), JJ Engelbrecht (WP), Juan Imhoff (Pampas XV).

SARPA Players’ Player of the Year: Bismarck du Plessis

Springbok Sevens Player of the Year: Cecil Afrika

Try of the Year
Winner: Sibusiso Sithole (Springbok Sevens vs Australia in the final of the Edinburgh Sevens)
Finalists: Gio Aplon (Stormers vs Chiefs in Hamilton), Lwazi Mvovo (The Sharks vs Cheetahs in Bloemfontein), Sarel Pretorius (first try for Cheetahs vs Blues in Whangarei and first try vs Brumbies in Bloemfontein), Jaco Taute (Golden Lions v The Sharks in Johannesburg, Currie Cup final).

SA Under-20 Player of the Year: Arno Botha

Craven Week Player of the Tournament: Jan Serfontein (Free State)

Marriott Referee Award: Craig Joubert

Women’s Achiever of the Year: Cebisa Kula

National Club Championship Player of the Tournament: Justin Wheeler (University of Johannesburg)