Rugby's prime role a surprise at Laureus awards

By Kris Shannon in Berlin

Academy Award-nominated actor Bill Murray introduced Fifa World Cup-winning coach Joachim Loew - then a couple of guys from Otago took the stage.

The glitz and glamour of the Laureus World Sports Awards was given a distinctly Kiwi hue this morning (NZT), with the All Blacks taking team of the year honours at a star-studded ceremony in Berlin.

It wasn't as if Richie McCaw and Steve Hansen had gate-crashed a ceremony boasting the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Luis Figo, but rugby's prime role was still a surprise.

Both the audience and the Laureus academy featured many more footballers and Olympians than those versed in the oval ball game, yet the All Blacks' success came shortly after Dan Carter was honoured with the comeback of the year award.

The double prize looked unlikely hours earlier in the build-up to the main event, when a sparsely-attended rugby press conference was immediately followed by a full house at the football version.

And yet the All Blacks upset presumptive favourites and European champions Barcelona, a result that illustrated just how impressive the feats in 2015 were.

Although, it was perhaps the deeds of the four-year cycle leading up to last year's World Cup triumph, as McCaw acknowledged, that saw the All Blacks walk away with yet more silverware.

"It was for 2015 but it was probably for the manner in which we approached 2015, after winning the World Cup in 2011," McCaw said. "Not letting our standards drop and actually almost raising them to stay the No1 team for the four years in between - I think it's as much recognition for that period as it is for the year."

Their 90 per cent winning record under Hansen is certainly one mark unmatched by any side at the top level of sport. And, having became the first team to claim back-to-back World Cups, it seems the sheer weight of their achievements became impossible to ignore.

Indeed, if the Laureus awards are known as the Oscars of sport, the All Blacks' triumph was the equivalent of Leonardo DiCaprio being named best actor at this year's Academy Awards: one of the greats of the field at last being recognised at the highest level.

"It's pretty cool just to say you're the best team in rugby, so to be picked out of all sports doesn't get any bigger," McCaw said. "When we've been nominated in the past, I wonder in New Zealand if we've understood exactly what we've been nominated for - perhaps it hasn't sunken in. But certainly being here, and the fact we've won it, you can understand what this award's all about.

"It'd be right up there. Obviously winning the World Cup was pretty cool, but this sits alongside it, I'm sure."

With the eyes of the sporting world on them after Loew had handed off the trophy, McCaw emphasised what many in the audience must have been thinking. It was special, the retired captain said, for "a little country from a long way away" to be merely nominated alongside the Golden State Warriors and the Mercedes' Formula 1 team, let alone consigning them all to the unfamiliar feeling of second place.

But rugby's influence may be growing at the Laureus awards. With Sean Fitzpatrick acting as the deputy chairman at the foundation and with the All Blacks having earned their moment on centre stage, McCaw thought the tide could be turning.

"People say rugby's a big sport for us [in New Zealand] but no so big on a global scale.

But it's obviously big enough where the exploits of what the All Blacks do are recognised."

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