Winger Bryan Habana, who helped South Africa win the World Cup, was named IRB Player of the Year on Sunday.
Habana scored a record-equaling eight tries in the tournament though he was unable to add to his tally in a tight final the Springboks won by beating England 15-6 at the Stade de France on Saturday.
South Africa's Jake White, whose team were the only unbeaten side in the tournament, was voted coach of the year and the Springboks took the team award.
The other four nominees for the award were Argentine pair Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martin Hernandez, France center Yannick Jauzion and New Zealand flanker and captain Richie McCaw, last year's winner.
Habana, who started out as a scrumhalf, is a fast and powerful runner who equaled the eight-try record that New Zealand wing Jonah Lomu set at the 1999 World Cup.
The 24-year-old also helped the Bulls beat the Sharks 20-19 in the all-South African Super 14 final in Durban in May, scoring one of their tries.
Contepomi was the tournament's second-highest scorer with a tally of 91, having added 19 points including two tries to his total in Argentina's 34-10 win over France in Friday's third-place playoff.
He was second only to South Africa fullback Percy Montgomery, who kicked 12 of the Springboks' points in the final.
Flyhalf Hernandez was at the tactical fulcrum of Argentina's remarkable tournament in which they won six of their seven matches, his kicking reaching a zenith with three superb drop goals in the 30-15 pool-winning victory over Ireland.
McCaw departed the World Cup early when favorites New Zealand went out at the quarter-final stage for the first time, beaten by France.
The French were unable to build on that victory and failed to reach the final, losing their semi-final 14-9 to defending champions England.
They may be the team of they year, but the Springboks have few illusions that their new status will stave off a renewed push by the South African government to overhaul the team's racial composition.
Even before their arrival back home, scheduled for today, politicians have mixed their words of praise with a warning they expect the World Cup final victory will act as a springboard to genuine racial transformation in a team that featured just two colored players in Saturday's starting line-up.
Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile said the 'Boks squandered the opportunity after their first title triumph in 1995 to make the game truly representative of the country's racial mix and a repeat failure was unacceptable.
"This victory should herald a new era -- an era in which we all embrace change and tackle the challenges still being faced by our rugby and sport in general," Stofile said.
"Our victory during the 1995 World Cup offered us a window to see what South Africa can be. We did not build on that. May we not commit the same error after this second chance," he said.
The debate about so-called racial quotas has been raging ever since 1995.
The national rugby team has made considerably less progress towards what the government calls "transformation" than cricket, while Super 14 teams rarely feature more than four players of color.
At one stage, the head of parliament's sports committee even suggested the 'Boks' passports be impounded unless they became more representative.
Although government bit its lip during the tournament, it would not have gone unnoticed by South African President Thabo Mbeki as he shook the hands of the winners and losers that England had as many players of color as South Africa, a nation with an 85 percent black population.
Before flying to Paris, Mbeki said comments by skipper John Smit on the team's role in forging national reconciliation were only a start.
"We would be greatly mistaken if we took this immensely positive development as signifying that the rugby administrators, the players and the nation have accomplished the shared goal of building rugby as a non-racial sport at all levels, on a sustainable basis," he wrote in his weekly newsletter.
Coach Jake White, who is set to step down, said the prospect of renewed political pressure had been "a huge unspoken motivation for [his players] -- to show that they deserve to keep their team."
Nick Mallett, a former Springboks coach who is taking charge of the Italy team, said the best way to encourage more blacks to take up the game was by having a successful national side rather than forcing the process.
"The more people who see a successful team, the more people from all cultures will want to play rugby," Mallett said.
Helen Zille, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, said government should limit itself to a "facilitative role."
"Instead of imposing race quotas in rugby, government should be nurturing young black talent by creating opportunities through bursaries, talent-scouting and better training and facilities," she said.
The few rugby clubs in black townships often lack the kit and equipment that counterparts in wealthy white suburbs take for granted. But with all eyes on raising standards in soccer ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, rugby is not a priority.
"They [politicians] stand on their soapboxes and whinge because rugby is an easy target," wrote Clinton Van der Berg in the Sunday Times.
"But they don't develop fields in townships, underwrite coaching classes or supply the nutrition needed to turn 75kg weaklings into 115kg tighthead props," Van der Berg wrote.
However, writing in the liberal Mail and Guardian weekly, Chris Waldberger said rugby had been too focused on sidestepping transformation.
"The thinking seems to be that as long as the Springboks are successful, politics can be kept on the periphery as an awkward sideshow. But this only goes to show that the intent and heart of transformation has been lost," he wrote.
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