BT Sport named their Dream Team of the Season last week, and I thought I’d give it a good crack myself! Hence here is my Team of the Aviva Premiership with a standardised bench as there were some players who were just too good to leave out…
1 – Greg Bateman (Leicester)
Harlequins academy reject Greg Bateman was an unknown when Richard Cockerill signed him on as a hooker but since then he has become a firm favourite at Welford Road by being the first professional player to play in all 3 front-row positions, along with a centre-like strike-rate. He’s got such great pace for a big prop and all of the tries that Bateman has scored this season have been crackers. Leicester are undeniably privileged to have props of the stock of Bateman and Genge to fulfil the coveted A Jerseys which have been worn by legends including Graham Rowntree and Marcos Ayerza in years gone by. A valuable team-player and all-around great bloke, Greg is my loosehead of the Year.
Honourable mentions go to Bateman’s teammate Ellis Genge, who was definitely in form but suffered a major injury and missed 3 months of the competition while Bath’s Beno Obano has been a sizeable presence in defence as well as being a potent force in the scrum and I expect that he will be in Eddie Jones’ plans for the World Cup.
2 – Kyle Cooper (Newcastle)
What a find from Dean Richards, a protege from the Sharks in Durban where he has learnt his craft from World Cup winning captain John Smit and fellow Springbok stalwart Bismarck du Plessis. Since then, Cooper has become a revelation: pinpoint lineout-throwing, abrasive ball-carrying, brilliant breakdown work with 20 turnovers to his name and an eye for the whitewash. He has been a sensation up north and is a core part of Newcastle’s 1st ever playoff qualification. It’s a shame he missed most of the end of the season with injury before returning to play in the semifinal loss but he still beat his opponents to this place on my team.
There has been plenty of hookers who have played well this season: Tatafu Polota-Nau has been a quality acquisition by the Tigers and is already proving popular amongst the supporters while Tom Dunn has been Mr Reliable for Bath with stellar ball-carrying so has therefore made my bench, Schalk Brits has had a fond farewell from rugby, Tom Cruse has had an incredible season with Wasps and Cooper’s teammate from Newcastle Santiago Socino looks like an exciting prospect.
3 – Jake Cooper-Woolley (Wasps)
My grand Tighthead of the Year goes to Jake Cooper-Woolley of Wasps, one of the Premiership’s best scrummagers, who when fit has consistently been one of the Coventry-based club’s best players on the pitch. But it isn’t just his scrummaging ability that makes him so good, it’s also his running & supporting lines as well as the ability to score a few close-range tries. Definitely deserves England recognition, a better ball-carrier than Cole, quicker than Harry Williams and a better scrummager than Kyle Sinckler.
Worthy mentions go to Nick Schonert of Worcester who has played superbly when fit, the same goes to Vincent Koch of Saracens.
4 – Calum Green (Newcastle)
There have been plenty of good performances from second rowers this season but my lock-forward of the year goes to Calum Green of Newcastle. He has been on the domestic scene for a long while now, an exciting prospect at Leicester Tigers but could never beat the likes of Ed Slater, Geoff Parling & Graham Kitchener so moved to Newcastle to get game time. Fast forward to this season and under new head coach Dave Walder, Calum Green has rocketed to fame having dominated the skies in the lineout with him being in the top echelons for lineouts won as well as being a menace for opposition with his lineout steals. His commitment cannot be understated as he has only missed one game this entire Premiership season and has put in 1500 minutes, that is some engine!
Notable mentions go to James Philips, he has added some real engine power to the Bath’s second row, while Ed Slater and Jeremy Thrush have been rejuvenated under Johan Ackermann and Api Ratuniyawa has been one of Saints’ few good players with his power & skillset.
5 – Will Spencer (Worcester)
Injury has meant he has missed the end of the season but from about October to March he was tearing up trees for a Worcester side that have had their best season in over a decade and look definitely to be on the upward trajectory. Such a difficult player to stop with his stocky and menacing frame, David Flatman can’t shut up about him and neither can I to be honest, especially since he’s coming to Leicester! He may not have scored any tries, but the gains and busts that he has made on the field has enabled the tries to be scored, and that’s as important as the tries themselves. Plus, he will send you back from whence you came if he wraps those big arms of his around you!
Honourable mentions go to Jonny Hill of the Chiefs who has emerged as 1st choice for the club, scoring a variety of tries and excelling at the lineout as he is the only player this season to get 100 lineout wins. Joe Launchbury of Wasps has been an excellent captain on-and-off the field with his engine, ball-carrying and tackling when not away with England.
6 – Jack Willis (Wasps)
In my opinion, this youngster from Wasps is firmly ahead of anyone in the competition. One of the discoveries of the season, he was put firmly into the spotlight when Wasps suffered a horrid injury crisis in the 1st few rounds. Since then he has cemented a place in the Wasps matchday squad as he has become the stuff of nightmares for opposition with his unmovable stance at the breakdown along with his energetic & unstoppable ballcarrying capability. It’s such a shame that the youngster was injured, on that plastic pitch, which meant that after being named for the tour he had to pull out and it was confirmed this morning that he might be out for up to 12 months. But once he has regained fitness, Eddie Jones really should give this young prospect a shot before the World Cup in Japan beckons.
Notable mentions go to Sale captain Jono Ross who is unlucky to miss out, his leadership and robustness has been a sensation up in Manchester and has formed a widely-feared backrow along with either Tom or Ben Curry at openside & Josh Strauss at the rearguard.
7 – Jake Polledri (Gloucester)
Could have been one of three Cherry and White backrow players in this starting team, Gloucester has always been known for producing quality backrowers but has struggled to keep them in recent seasons (Thomas Young, Sam Underhill spring to mind particularly) however I get the feeling this season that Polledri, along with Lewis Ludlow and Ruan Ackermann, are here to stay. Polledri is such a joy to watch, his strength is just unbelievable as he can shrug off players of any size (he famously bumped off Ashley Johnson as well as Mat Luamanu this season) therefore he has made so many metres across the gainline, allowing his backs to thrive. He has also been given a debut by Conor O’Shea for Italy and a backrow with himself, Seb Negri & the old guard Sergio Parisse is one to quiver in fear about.
Brendan O’Connor has run Polledri ever so close to a spot on my team. He is one of Leicester’s best players without a doubt as he is so good over the ball and a difficult player to stop in attack too. Don Armand was also very good this year but couldn’t do anything to stop Polledri getting this spot.
8 – Sam Simmonds (Exeter)
Well, what a season from the Torquay Tornado! A relative unknown before the start of the season, injury to hero Thomas Waldrom has meant that the youngster has burst onto the big stage. He’s daunted oppositions with such lightning speed coupled with a low centre of gravity that has helped him score 12 tries this season, with only wingers Nicky Goneva and Josh Adams having scored more. He has also made his debut for England and has gone on to appear in the Six Nations and is set to be selected once again for South Africa. His stock has grown exponentially and is continuing to grow whether he plays at 6,7 or 8.
There have been plenty of excellent Number 8s this season: Josh Strauss has been a quality acquisition by Sale, Sione Kalamafoni has put in a mountain of work with Leicester as he’s top in the Premiership for carries by some distance, Ben Morgan has relaunched himself into the international frame under Ackermann while the head coach’s son Ruan has added ballast to the Cherry and White’s backrow
9 – Faf de Klerk (Sale)
The signing of the season by far. For someone of his size, he is such a strong player as Danny Cipriani found out to his dismay. His speed to the breakdown and delivery is also second to none as he has been central to all the gorgeous, entertaining rugby that the Sharks have produced this season. Also he won’t be easily shaken off in defence and his scintillating form has not only garnered a spot on my Team of the season (as well as others) but also a nomination for Player of the Season and it might also result in a Springbok recall for the June test series against England.
10 – Marcus Smith (Harlequins)
Absolutely criminal that he has not made the official Discovery of the Season nominees list but perhaps that is down to Harlequins finishing all the way down in 10th position. An unknown before this season, not even diehard Harlequins fans truly knew of his ability. His creativeness and vision is first-rate while his hitch-kick is sensational and has been the catalyst for a lot of his tries and try-assists this season. Despite being very young and small, he can put in a decent hit as shown by his dump tackle on Luther Burrell in Big Game 10 and his kicking is quality too. Has a huge future ahead, but only if Quins start getting their act together.
Smith only just edged Danny Cipriani who has arguably had his best season in a Wasps shirt and has earnt an England recall that England fans have been crying for, and also has signed for an on-the-rise Gloucester while Joe Simmonds looks like another treasure-find from Devon and could be very much test standard one day.
11 – Jonny May (Leicester)
The England international has been transformed by his summer move to the Tigers, scoring a lot of tries and has cemented a place in the England team. He will always have his critics about whether he runs straight or whether he has the footwork to beat defenders, but no one can doubt how much of a transformation he has had whilst at the Tigers. Some of his finishes have been extraordinary, perhaps best highlighted by his stunning touchdown against Northampton in Round 2, and his passion for the sport and his new club is often unparalleled amongst the wingers in the competition.
A notable mention to Alex Lewington who tried his best to keep London Irish afloat however their demise was inevitable and the Saracens-bound winger needs his defence sorting out quickly too! Also Olly Woodburn has produced some riveting finishes this season and has been a force to be reckoned with in the air.
12 – Henry Slade (Exeter)
Yes, Slade has played more rugby at 13 this season but there was no way that I was leaving out Trinder. Slade has been so elusive in the centres, beating defenders, producing monstrous touch-finders reminiscent of his world-class kick in the semifinal last-year against Saracens and producing some highly-skilled offloads. His defence is also quite impressive, he won’t put in too many big hits in but he will certainly not be moved easily. I look forward to the possibility of the Exeter centre cementing a place in the England side whether at 10, 12 or 13.
Matt Toomua has shown us why Leicester signed him, playing well at both 10 & 12 and we hope to see more of him next season with his delicious passing, accurate kicking and putting in some massive hits in defence.
13 – Henry Trinder (Gloucester)
We’ve known about Trinder’s abilities for a long while now, we all know that he is especially talented. Unfortunately for the Gloucester player, he has been plagued by injuries which has meant his international chances have been limited to a single unofficial capped appearance for England against the Barbarians in 2014. However this season, to the delight of not only the Shed but English Rugby fans alike, the dazzling centre has seemed to have turned a corner. In a high-octane season for the player, he has been ripping up defences by setting up one contender for try of season and scored another. His attacking ability has the potential to be world-beating and I do hope he gets an England cap.
A very notable mention to Rob Horne of Northampton who had a stormer of a debut season before an untimely, accidental and extremely unfortunate life-changing arm injury has meant that the World Cup finalist has had to sadly retire.
14 – Josh Adams (Worcester)
Before this season, few people outside of the Worcester fan base would have heard of Adams but this season under the excellent tutelage of attack coach Sam Vesty he has shone this season with 12 tries, some of them absolute classics (my favourite being the one he scored against Saracens) and got himself capped by Wales during the Six Nations. He has also thrown in some decent hits in defence, meaning he’s not just a quick lad who will get walked over all the time.
Very, very close shoot out between Adams and Vereniki Goneva who has been named the Player of the Season and is joint top-tryscorer along with the newly capped Welsh international, while Marland Yarde has started a new chapter at Sale Sharks rather pleasingly and quickly.
15 – Jason Woodward (Gloucester)
He was undoubtedly Bristol’s best player last season and his signing by Gloucester has been a master stroke by David Humphreys. It all started in round 1 when his last minute try caused a major upset over Exeter at Kingsholm and he has continued to be a nightmare for opposition defences with his scything footwork, searing pace as well as some stunning offloads. Unfortunately, his international recognition was limited to just a call up to the training squad to take on the Barbarians but I’m sure that one day we’ll see much more of the former-Hurricane in an England jersey.
If it wasn’t for injury Telusa Veainu would have been on this team whereas Willie le Roux has been nothing short of sensational for Wasps this season with crazy try assist statistics (21 I believe), which is why he is in my 23.
Tom Dunn (Bath), Beno Obano (Bath), Vincent Koch (Saracens), Don Armand (Exeter), Ruan Ackermann (Gloucester), Ben Vellacott (Gloucester), Vereniki Goneva (Newcastle) & Willie le Roux (Wasps)
Well, that’s my team of the season, do you agree?