May 13, 2018
Flying Fijians lock Leone Nakarawa has created history by becoming the first Fijian to win the European Player of the Year for 2018.
The 30-year-old helped Racing 92 reach the Champions Cup final in which they were narrowly defeated by Leinster at Bilbao’s San Mamés Stadium.
The winner of the award was determined by a combination of a public vote and the verdict of an expert panel.
A record 21,000 votes were registered from fans since the list of nominees for the award was named at the end of January.
Nakarawa fought off Racing teammate Maxime Machenaud along with Leinster’s star trio of Scott Fardy, Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton to become the first Top 14 player to win the award since 2015.
His performances in the Champions Cup received widespread acclaim throughout the season with his try in Racing’s quarter-final win at Clermont voted as the best of the knockout rounds on ChampionsCupRugby.com.
Nakarawa is in elite company, with previous winners of the award including the likes of Owen Farrell, Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O’Gara.
He has been with Racing since 2016, joining the French side after three years with Glasgow Warriors.
Apart from donning the Flying Fijians jumper for 47 times, Nakarawa has also achieved success with the Fiji 7s team and won an Olympic gold medal, scoring a try in the 2016 Summer Olympics gold medal match against Great Britain.
Nakarawa was one of the outstanding forwards at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and made the Dream Team of the tournament, and he was also rated among the top rugby players of 2017 by many websites around the globe.
He will feature for the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians in the June Series and is also in line to represent the country in the 2018 Rugby 7s World Cup in San Francisco in July.
By Reginald Chandar