1: Soane Tonga’uiha (Northampton Saints)
Northampton hit back at critics with an impressive win at Sandy Park on Saturday, and giant prop Soane Tonga’uiha was at the heart of a pack that stifled Exeter’s greater desire for creativity. After a couple of early scrum penalties against them, Tonga’uiha and his pack learnt from their mistakes to boss an area that so often dominates matches and headlines alike these days. He was also back to his destructive best in the loose, and grabbed a try from the back of an impressive rolling maul.
2: Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
The Saints’ skipper may have received a yellow card, but it was more a result of him taking a bullet for his team than any individual stupidity. That aside, Hartley led a resurgent Northampton team that showed they are not ready to be written out of the title race just yet. The line-out also functioned superbly well, and he set the tone in the first minute with a monstrous hit that knocked the wind out of Exeter right from the off.
3: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
With two scrum penalty tries, whether fairly awarded or not, to his name there’s no doubt that Cole had his opposite number on toast after some strong work in the opening half from Castrogiovanni. In a lacklustre performance from a Tigers team that showed 12 changes, Cole and his partner in crime Ayerza came on to change the game and get their team a crucial 4 points.
4: Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers)
Slater is the most honest of second rows, and a man who typifies what Leicester are all about: nothing flash, just hard work and the willingness to give everything for your club. On Friday night he put in another impressive stint in the engine room, part of the ballast that overpowered the Worcester pack, and put himself about the park admirably – one scrag tackle on Jonny Arr as Worcester threatened to run away with it sticks out in the memory.
5: George Skivington (London Irish)
Where did this performance come from? Admittedly Gloucester were horrendously sub-par, but such a transformation in so small a space of time is rare in professional sport. Skivington is something of a Premiership journeyman now, but he used all his experience to lead the Exiles to what could be the turning point in their season, grabbing a brace in the process and showing great instinct to hit some excellent support lines. Having spent his career at the Premiership summit with Wasps in their heyday before switching to the Tigers, Skivington has never been in a relegation dogfight before, and will need that winning mentality to guide a young team to safety.
6: Ashley Johnson (London Wasps)
The South African with the giant afro formed part of a back row that bullied their Bath counterparts on Sunday, leading his side to a hard-fought victory that leaves them in the play-off spots. One of a series of shrewd signings that has added experience to a group of undoubtedly talented youngsters, Johnson carried time and again into the underbelly of Bath and also played the link-man between forwards and backs on several occasions.
7: Matt Kvesic (Worcester Warriors)
A coming-of-age performance from a man who any Worcester fan will tell you has the potential to be a top quality player. It was an outing that deserved to be recognised with a MOTM award, and would have been had he been on the winning side. Kvesic carried with such force that the Tigers couldn’t deal with him in the loose, and before the entry of Salvi in the second half he dominated the breakdown. Probably the performance of the weekend.
8: Nick Easter (Harlequins)
He may be too old for further international service, but Nick Easter is in the form of his life. Were there not a World Cup to be preparing for, he would surely be nailed on in this shirt for England. What was most impressive this weekend was his work rate, as he popped up all over the place to get over the gain line as well as feed his team mates in a brilliantly-worked team try in the first half. He then appeared again to take a pass from Williams before cooly drawing his man and sending Evans in for the try that finally killed off the Exiles’ resurgence.
9: Danny Care (Harlequins)
Care’s excellent season continued with another assured performance against London Welsh, capped off with a smartly taken try that exemplified all his best attributes. Snatching up quick ball from the base of a ruck, he shimmied to create a gap before nipping through it and handing-off on his opposite number on the way to the line. With Ben Youngs looking slightly out-of-sorts at Leicester, the Quins scrum half will be quietly hoping he can play his way back into the England starting lineup.
10: Nick Evans (Harlequins)
The Quins triumvirate is completed by the Kiwi maverick who put in another solid performance to steer the champions to victory. One clanger from the boot aside, Evans’ all round game was perfect, with perhaps the most impressive moment coming when he contrived to hold up the giant Adam Balding over the line to deny him a try, just as Welsh were starting to come back into the game. To top it all off he was on hand to run in one of the easier tries of his career, as Quins finally quashed London Welsh’s valiant fightback.
11: David Strettle (Saracens)
The forgotten man amongst English wingers stormed back to the front of everyone’s minds this weekend with an exemplary display. Not only did he glide through the Sale defence to bag his first Premiership try of the season, but he then put in the deftest of little chips to send Hodgson in behind the onrushing defence for Sarries’ second try. Probably too late to be considered for the EPS this week, but a timely reminder that talent is permanent.
12: Brad Barritt (Saracens)
It wasn’t a vintage week for inside centres across the Premiership; Matt Banahan went reasonably well for Bath with some typically strong carries, but for sheer consistency Barritt gets the nod. His defensive efforts once again stifled the Sharks’ attack, while he floated a well-weighted pass while standing in at 10 (bizarrely while Sarries had two out-and-out fly-halves on the pitch) that allowed Dave Strettle to ghost past the opposition and in for his try. We all know he has his limitations, but ahead of the EPS announcement he issued another reminder that he rarely has a bad game.
13: Elliot Daly (London Wasps)
Another encouraging all-round performance from the precocious young talent that is Elliot Daly. One arcing outside break was elegant in its simplicity, and his beautifully weighted chip that allowed Simpson to set up Bell was executed to perfection. He is thriving on the harum-scarum, all-court game Wasps are playing at the moment, and from a neutral’s point of view long may it continue.
14: Christian Wade (London Wasps)
The diminutive try-machine showed his massive potential once again with a smartly taken try that put Wasps back in the game just before half-time. Indeed, it is probably time to be talking about more than just potential when it comes to Wade, as he had absolutely no right to score here after a poor pass had threatened to ruin some fine build-up play. After stepping inside his opposite man he beat a further two defenders, showing strength just as much as the agility we all know he possesses.
15: Nick Abendanon (Bath)
Consistently the shining light in a series of average team performances, Abendanon was at his electric best once again at Adams Park. He caught Wasps napping with a try just 24 seconds after the kick-off, jinking and slicing open the defence before rounding the last man to cross the line. He attacked with such verve and abandon that for most of the afternoon Wasps struggled to lay a hand on him. It was a cracking weekend for English fullbacks, as Luke Arscott at Exeter and Ben Foden at Saints, ironically on opposing sides of the same match, both put in storming performances. Plenty for Lancaster to ponder in this area.