Rotherham Phoenix's transgender prop icon Verity 'Vez' Smith has been crowned Rhino Prop Star 2018.
In Rhino's annual search for a hero of grassroots rugby, Verity saw off 200 prop contenders from across the UK to be crowned Prop Star at half-time during The Varsity Match between Oxford University and Cambridge University.
The competition began in April, and saw props nominated by clubs for their incredible efforts in going beyond the call of duty. A shortlist of three was chosen by a panel of international legends – Jason Leonard, Rocky Clark, Adam Jones and Joe Marler – which then went to the public vote.
Thousands of votes were cast as the nation decided between Nick Lee of Worcester Rugby Club, who set up a mixed ability rugby club; Dan Lampard of Trojans FC, who defied doctors who told him he would never play rugby; and Verity 'Vez' Smith, who has championed LGBTQ+ rights and has bravely stood up for transgender sports people.
Verity receives the award from Rocky, applauded by Nick and Dan.
All images: Matthew Impey, Wired Photos
Nick Lee, said: "Prop Star was a shock to me as I was put forward secretly by some of my teammates, it was nice to think they thought that much of me to put me forward for this nationwide competition. It gave us the opportunity to showcase mixed ability rugby and since the Prop Star video went live we have had five new players join the team."
Dan Lampard, said: "It was the experience of a lifetime to have reached the final of Prop Star. Being interviewed on the pitch at Twickenham made me feel very special and famous. Thank you everyone."
Verity 'Vez' Smith, said: “Winning Prop Star was a rollercoaster of emotions. I never thought I would see it happen in my lifetime. To have so much support and respect as a rugby player and as a human being without the stigma of being 'trans' was incredible. People were not just voting for me, they where voting for everyone else that needs a voice, and enabling barriers to be broken. It was also about creating continued support and development within sport and the LGBTQ+ community. Keep talking, keep moving forward and keep supporting to create a brighter inclusive future in sport.”
The three finalists were presented in front of the Twickenham crowd by Rocky Clark.
Rhino CEO Reg Clark, said: “Rhino is very proud of the annual Prop Star competition. Our original signature product was the world’s first mass-produced scrum machine and we remain the world leader in this product category – in short, front rowers and props are in our DNA. Equally important, we are a huge supporter of grassroots rugby, and a competition to find the props in community rugby clubs in the UK who go above and beyond on and off the field really hits the mark for us.”
Completing the celebration of props at The Varsity Match, all nominees for the Prop Star competition were also invited to take a lap of the Twickenham pitch as part of the inaugural Prop Star Parade.
Next year's competition will kick off in March next year.