Yoshiro Mori receives World Rugby award; Johnny Sexton gets top player honor

Kyodo, AP

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori received an award from World Rugby on Sunday for his contributions to the sport and role in Japan’s successful bid to host next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Mori, who serves as the honorary chairman of the Japan Rugby Football Union, was named the recipient of the Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service by the sport’s world governing body at an award ceremony in Monte Carlo.

“I’m very honored and moved. I’ve wanted to devote my life to working for rugby, and I’m very glad I have been able to do that,” said the 81-year-old Mori, who is also the head of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee.

As the president of the JRFU, Mori played a central role in Japan’s bid to host the 2019 World Cup, the first staging of the tournament in Asia. He assumed the role of JRFU president from 2005 to 2015.

Mori became the first Japanese recipient of the award, given to those who have contributed to spreading or developing the sport.

Ireland, scheduled to face Japan in the pool stage at the World Cup next year, dominated the major awards, with flyhalf Johnny Sexton named World Rugby Player of the Year.

Sexton was a key member of the Ireland team as the pivot between its powerful forward pack and increasingly effective backline, forming a potent partnership in the halves with scrumhalf Conor Murray.

Coach Joe Schmidt was named Coach of the Year and Ireland was named Team of the Year in recognition of its Six Nations Grand Slam and its historic home win this month over top-ranked New Zealand.

“It’s been an incredible year for us,” Ireland captain Rory Best said. “I think the Grand Slam was enormous.

“I think to win it at Twickenham, which is an unbelievably tough place to go with all the pressure that is around, made the Grand Slam the highlight of the year.”

Best dismissed suggestions Ireland’s 16-9 win over New Zealand in Dublin two weeks ago had made the Irish favorites to win the World Cup .

“I think favorites and underdogs is a tag that is thrown around in the media more than among the teams,” he said. “When you get to the top level, and when you look at the World Cup, you see teams like New Zealand which we were obviously thrilled to beat this month.

“They have been No. 1 in the world for nine years now and they are obviously a fantastic outfit. They are going to be tough to beat at the World Cup but I think below that there are a number of teams that will say that they have a real chance of going to the World Cup and winning it.

“I think for Ireland to be in that lucky position is phenomenal.”