World Rugby has unveiled the shortlists for the Coach of the Year and Team of the Year accolades, with the winners to be announced at the World Rugby Awards dinner in London, on November 1.
The World Rugby Team of the Year 2015 nominees are Rugby World Cup 2015 finalists New Zealand and Australia, along with semi-finalists Argentina and Japan, who caused the biggest shock in the tournament's history by beating South Africa on the opening weekend.
The men at the helm of these four nations – Steve Hansen (New Zealand), Michael Cheika (Australia), Daniel Hourcade (Argentina) and Eddie Jones (Japan) – are nominated for the prestigious World Rugby Coach of the Year 2015 award.
The nominees were selected by an independent panel, comprising of Australia's RWC 1999-winning captain John Eales (chairman), former Italy and South Africa coach Nick Mallett, former Argentina captain Agustín Pichot, Scott Hastings and his fellow Scot John Jeffrey, a World Rugby Council Member.
New Zealand, under coach Hansen – the recipient of the last three Coach of the Year awards, have lost only one match in 2015, against Australia in The Rugby Championship decider in August. They are bidding to become the first nation to win back-to-back Rugby World Cups.
Australia, who like New Zealand would lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time with victory in the final at Twickenham on Saturday, have been transformed over the last 12 months by Cheika, winning The Rugby Championship title and beating five of the top 10 sides in the World Rugby Rankings to reach their fourth Rugby World Cup final.
Argentina have been one of the most exciting teams to watch over the past six weeks as, building on their first-ever victory over South Africa in August, they have followed Hourcade's brief to play an attacking style of rugby to the letter, behind only the All Blacks in points and tries scored at RWC 2015.
Japan had waited 24 years for a second RWC victory but under Jones they won three matches in 2015, climbed to 10th in the World Rugby Rankings and narrowly missed out on a first-ever quarter-final place. They earned a new army of fans not only at home with television audiences growing with every match to reach 25 million against Samoa, but also around the world, helping to transform the sport's profile in Japan and create heroes for the next generation to look up to ahead of the country hosting the tournament in 2019.
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "Over the past 12 months we have been treated to compelling and competitive rugby and some truly wonderful team performances. Reaching a Rugby World Cup final requires great strength in depth across an entire squad so the achievements for Australia and New Zealand in that regard are amazing.
"Argentina, they have improved so much in recent times and their performances both in The Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup are testament to that. Japan arrived at Rugby World Cup 2015 with great optimism and then shocked the world with their victory over South Africa. They backed that up with victories over Samoa and USA and narrowly missed out on a quarter-final place. All these four teams won many admirers in 2015 and it will not be an easy decision to pick just one to be crowned World Rugby Team of the Year.
"Michael Cheika, Steve Hansen, Daniel Hourcade and Eddie Jones have all enjoyed stellar years in 2015. Each of them is an experienced coach, used to the stresses and strains of leading top sides but this year they have all excelled by ensuring their players were in peak physical, mental and technical condition and ready to set Rugby World Cup 2015 alight with their skill, strength, athleticism and calmness under pressure.
"Through their leadership, these coaches have contributed greatly to a magnificent rugby year and whoever is named the World Rugby Coach of the Year will be deserving of that prestigious accolade.”