Player of the Season: Chris Pennell
There were several consistently excellent performers this season. Niki Goneva was game-changingly brilliant for Tigers while everyone knows how brilliant Mike Brown and Schalk Brits have been. In terms of purely Aviva Premiership action, however, no one has outdone the Worcester Warriors fullback. He topped the stats for metres made and carries, and was second in defenders beaten, all the while part of a team that was being beaten week in week out, with turmoil behind the scenes for large parts of the season too. It would have been so easy for him to give up and look for a move, but he didn’t; instead he toiled until the last, and didn’t deserve to be relegated. An England tour in New Zealand is just reward for a fine season.
Breakthrough player of the season: Dave Ward
This is a bit of an odd one, as ‘breakthrough’ would suggest this should go to someone a touch younger than Ward, who is hardly a spring chicken at 29, but such has been his emergence this season it is deserved recognition of an astonishing campaign. He has flitted around the Premiership with stints at Northampton, Sale and Bath, before dropping down to the Cornish Pirates in the Championship. When he signed for Quins two seasons ago, he was third choice. Now, he is in line to start the first England test in New Zealand. His career has been a testament to the idea of never giving up, and is a superb example for youngsters everywhere.
Try of the season
3. Christian Wade (London Wasps v Gloucester)
2. Kelly Brown (Saracens v Northampton Saints)
1. Jamie Elliot (Northampton Saints v Gloucester)
All videos courtesy of Premiership Rugby’s Youtube account
Coaching team of the season: Mark McCall and Paul Gustard (Saracens)
That these two did not come away with any silverware is a cruel side effect of the play-off system. McCall spoke before the game about not judging their season on one game and one trophy, and if you look at it like that then there is no doubt that Saracens have been the top team in the league this year.
Their defence, masterminded by Paul Gustard, has taken on its own moniker (‘wolfpack’), and they have steadily added layers to their attacking game to see them end second top try scorers in the regular league season (they were overtaken by Saints on the last day after their rout of an understrength Wasps), despite not necessarily possessing the firepower in the backs that other sides do. That is testament to a successful coaching team, even if they did run out of steam just at the wrong moment.
Obviously, an honourable mention has to go to Jim Mallinder and Dorian West for a brilliant season which saw them time their run perfectly and win two pieces of silverware.
Overachievers: Sale Sharks
That Sale win this after having been named Underachievers last season means Steve Diamond came very close to winning the award above. Sale have played far beyond themselves this season, proving many pundits and writers – myself included, it has to be said – wrong. They have transformed their pack into a vicious outfit with a smart rolling maul, while Dwayne Peel and Danny Cipriani have proved one of the partnerships of the season. Sam Tuiputou and Jonny Liota have have been titanic in the centres and the evergreen Mark Cueto has been scoring tries for fun again.
Ninth is a terrible return for a squad as talented as Gloucester’s. A powder puff front five has obviously hindered them, as has the distraction and loss of form of Freddie Burns, but they have still failed to play to their strengths. They won eight of 22 games and ended with the third worst defensive record in the league – that is not good enough for a team boasting several current and former England internationals and a particularly exciting backline. Nigel Davies paid the price and has been sacked, and they have recruited strongly for next season, so it will be intriguing to see how they fare.
Team of the season
15. Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors)
14. David Strettle (Saracens)
13. Vereniki Goneva (Leicester Tigers)
12. Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)
11. Semesa Rokodoguni (Bath Rugby)
10. Stephen Myler (Northampton Saints)
9. Danny Care (Harlequins)
1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)
2. Schalk Brits (Saracens)
3. Logovi’i Mulipola (Leicester Tigers)
4. Michael Paterson (Sale Sharks)
5. Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers)
6. Dan Braid (Sale Sharks)
7. Jacques Burger (Saracens)
8. Samu Manoa (Northampton Saints)
16. Dave Ward (Harlequins)
17. Alex Waller (Northampton Saints)
18. Dave Wilson (Bath Rugby)
19. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
20. Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
21. Dwayne Peel (Sale Sharks)
22. George Ford (Bath Rugby)
23. Mike Brown (Harlequins)
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images