15. Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors)
It’s not a fashionable opinion, but in terms of performances in the Premiership, Pennell pips Mike Brown to this spot in our team. He has stood head and shoulders above every other Worcester player this season – without him they would have been relegated months ago. Topping too many stats to mention here, he was always a threat and always willing, and the Premiership will be a poorer place without him. As well as Brown, Nick Abendanon deserves a mention.
14. David Strettle (Saracens)
Second top try scorer this year, Strettle has been the main beneficiary of Sarries’ continually expanding game. They have been the most dangerous attacking side, and the Saracens wing has been on hand to provide some superb finishes.
13. Vereniki Goneva (Leicester Tigers)
Has flitted between 13 and wing, but when there was a Tuilagi-sized hole here at the beginning of the season, Goneva turned into Tigers’ go-to man. He is probably the most exciting player in the Premiership for his ability to do the unexpected, and is just a nightmare to defend against – his 13 tries, more than anyone else, attest to that. George Pisi and Marcelo Bosch deserve mentions, too.
12. Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)
What a season it’s been for Burrell. Simply insatiable in the early rounds of the Premiership, the clamour for his inclusion for England during the autumn eventually saw him rewarded in the Six Nations. When in a Northampton shirt, he has been a consistent source of go forward ball in the midfield, and has scored some excellent tries to boot. Plenty more to come.
11. Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath Rugby)
A bit of a wildcard this one, as ‘Roko’ hasn’t always found himself starting, but from an outsider’s perspective it’s hard to see why. On his day he plays in a similar way to Goneva – plenty of raw pace but a dangerous sidestep and a healthy dose of bulk, which he has added this season. Scored some scintillating tries early on, and it would be great to see him tour New Zealand. Mention to Chris Ashton, who has been revitalised at Saracens this year.
10. George Ford (Bath Rugby)
Some questioned it, but the move from Leicester has been an unqualified success. As undisputed first choice Ford has thrived, and not just at the stuff we all knew he could do well – run and distribute. His place kicking has improved markedly (he is the season’s top points scorerer), while tactically he has learned the astuteness that comes only from increased game time. Danny Cipriani has also been superb and came very close to getting in the team.
9. Danny Care (Harlequins)
When not away on England duty, Care has lit up the Premiership. He has been a key reason for Quins’ late charge into the play-offs, injecting more tempo into games than any other player across the competition. Has added more control to his game too. Mention to Exeter’s Dave Lewis, who looks to be fulfilling a lot of his early talent down in Devon.
1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)
This has been the season that Marler has left his critics behind – undoubtedly helped by the new scrummaging rules, his excellent technique has come to the fore, as he has proved for both Quins and England. He has also carried with typical menace, not to mention given some hilarious interviews. Mention to England teammate Mako Vunipola who has come on leaps and bounds for Sarries, too.
2. Schalk Brits (Saracens)
So difficult to leave out Dave Ward, but if Brits was English then he would have received just as many column inches as the Quins man this season, you sense. Saracens’ South African does things that no other hooker can – he has the pace, handling and vision of a back, while not letting any of that compromise his set-piece effectiveness.
3. Logovi’i Mulipola (Leicester Tigers)
Is there a more entertaining player to watch than Mulipola? Probably not. With Castro gone and Cole injured for large swathes of the season, Mulipola has had to adapt to life as a tighthead – and he has done so with aplomb. He’s comfortably the most destructive ball carrying prop in the league, so much so that the Tigers have started employing him as a regular runner from deep.
4. Michael Paterson (Sale Sharks)
Probably the signing of the season, Sale’s Anglo-qualified Kiwi has been a revelation at the heart of a gritty pack. That quality is essentially what has seen them into Europe next season – they may not have the star names of some of those below them, but Paterson has typified their hard working attitude. Scored a couple of decent tries, too. Mention to Exeter duo Dean Mumm and Damina Welch, who have former an impressive partnership.
5. Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers)
Slater’s performances have been influential, but it is his leadership that has been most important to the Tigers this year. When he took over the captaincy from Toby Flood the team were in crisis, but come the end of the season and he has steered them safely to third place, even pushing for a home semi-final, something which looked impossible back at the turn of the year. Mention to Steve Borthwick who has also been a leader of men this year.
6. Dan Braid (Sale Sharks)
The rolling maul has been a huge weapon, and Braid has been the beneficiary to finish the top try-scoring forward. Like Paterson, he has been a key cog in influencing Sale’s attitude on the pitch, which has been so markedly improved from their torrid campaign last season. Has one of the highest workrates in the league.
7. Jacques Burger (Saracens)
Burger puts his head in places nobody should have to. His tour de force in the Heineken Cup semi-final was one of the performances of the season in any competition, but he has been doing likewise for most of the Premiership season too. Leader of the self-styled Saracens wolf pack. Mention to Chris Robshaw and Julian Salvi, who have also been influential.
8. Samu Manoa (Northampton Saints)
The man mountain has had another unbeatable season at the heart of the Saints pack. It is not just his size that makes him difficult to bring down – for such a big guy he has excellent footwork, which means tacklers are often off balance when trying to bring him down. Whether in the engine room or at the base of the scrum, he has been causing headaches for defences all season long.
Breakdown: 3 – Saracens, Leicester 2 – Bath, Sale, Harlequins, Northampton 1 – Worcester
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images