HSBC and the Asian Rugby Football Union have announced the inception of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Emerging Player of the Year award. The inaugural winner is Japan scrumhalf Atsushi Hiwasa.
The award continues a stellar season for Hiwasa after being named the Rookie of the Year in the Japanese professional league for the 2010/11 season where he plays for Suntory Sungoliath, the current All-Japan champions. Hiwasa earned his first two caps for Japan in this year’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) campaign, sharing time with fellow scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka.
The award is designed to recognise new or emerging players in Asian rugby, with a focus on the elite HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top Five competition.
Commenting on the award, Peter Wong Tung-shun, Chief Executive, HSBC Asia-Pacific, said: “We congratulate Atsushi Hiwasa of Japan for winning the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Emerging Player of the Year award, following his excellent performances in the 2011 tournament. Recognising potential is a key focus of our business and, through the award, we are delighted to identify and celebrate players that will inspire the next generation of rugby players. We believe in the grass-root development of the great game of rugby and look to support its growth around the world.”
After being informed of receiving the award, Hiwasa said, “It is a great honour for me to receive the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Emerging Player of the Year award. I would like to take this occasion to thank HSBC for their support of Asian rugby and of course to thank my team-mates and coaches and everyone else who has supported me in my rugby development.
“I have a strong determination to maintain my good performances, and in doing so I hope to contribute to the development of Japanese rugby and Asian rugby as a whole. As the winner of this award and a representative of the Asian rugby family, I will continue to do my best to be selected to the Japan squad for Rugby World Cup 2011,” he added.
Japan coach and HSBC Ambassador John Kirwan was pleased at the recognition for his talented scrumhalf, saying, “Hiwasa is one of the most outstanding and promising young players in the national team squad. In the recent HSBC A5N tour and domestic training camps, he has dramatically improved his performance level. I look forward to his continued hard work and higher performance to be selected for the Rugby World Cup squad.”
The 24-year old Hiwasa was born in Kobe, Japan and played his university rugby at Hosei University. Hiwasa took up the game at the age of five and was the captain of his high school rugby club and vice-captain of the Hosei University team.
Rich Freeman, Rugby Correspondent for the Japanese newspaper Daily Yomiuri and a member of the voting panel, said, “A year ago, few expected Hiwasa to get much playing time at Suntory Sungoliath given the presence of George Gregan and other veteran scrumhalves. But his coach Eddie Jones believed in him and said from the start of the season he had a No. 9 who could go far. Hiwasa not only kept Gregan out of the starting line-up but played a major role in Suntory reaching the Top League final and winning the All-Japan Championship.
“His form caught the eye of the national selectors who said he was too good to be omitted. And with Japan wanting to play a high-pace game, Hiwasa’s style of play is ideally suited to the Brave Blossoms, as he showed in the HSBC Asian Five Nations,” Freeman added.
Sponsored by HSBC, the winner was selected by a panel of adjudicators comprised of HSBC ARFU coach Frank Hadden, ARFU Honorary Secretary General Ross Mitchell, HSBC Asian Five Nations commentator Mike Rehu, IRB Regional General Manager for Asia Jarrad Gallagher as well as select rugby media from around Asia.
Photo credit: Kenji Demura/RJP