Power Ranking the Six-Man Shortlist for Aviva Premiership Player of the Season
The six contenders have been revealed for this year's Aviva Premiership Player of the Year.
The gong will be handed out on May 15, with three backs and three forwards on the list for the accolade that has not been handed to a man outside the forward pack for three seasons.
The men in the running this year are as follows:
Mike Brown, Harlequins
Niki Goneva, Leicester
Dan Braid, Sale
Jacques Burger, Saracens
Samu Manoa, Northampton
Chris Pennell, Worcester
Let's assess their credentials and see who comes out on top.
Remember, this award is for Premiership player of the season, not taking into account anything done on the international stage.
6. Mike Brown, Harlequins
It is easy to see why Brown has been chosen for this list.
It is hard to remember a player from any one of the Six Nations standing out quite so far above the others as the Quins full-back did in this year’s tournament.
Cynics might suggest those performances in the Red Rose have swayed the selection panel to include him in spite of a mediocre season endured by his club.
But Brown has been in excellent form for his club as well, as they battled back from a poor start to the season to challenge the top four places.
5. Dan Braid, Sale
Sharks skipper Braid has been in the vanguard of their rise to sixth in the table.
The New Zealander’s absence for the rest of the season will be keenly felt after undergoing knee surgery, but his leadership has helped reform the Manchester side as a genuine contender for a place in the Heineken Cup if not the top four of the table.
The former Auckland Blues man is a typical Kiwi openside, fast over the ball and an outstanding link man with his back line.
4. Samu Manoa, Northampton Saints
The American powerhouse forward can play second row or back row and can be devastating around the field from either position.
He was named Saints player of the year last season and the Telegraph’s Will Greenwood is a huge fan.
He can play 4, 5, 6, or 8, and would be a shoo-in for any starting XV other than the All Blacks or South Africa. However, even there he would be in the squad because Samu is someone you would make room for in your team.
Last year Tom Youngs was awarded Aviva player of the season after some strong performances, even though he was away a lot with the England side. As good as he was, I was surprised they looked past Samu, who was epic in his consistency of performances.
He is the ultimate club man. He does not do international weekends so is available every week; he is a superb physical athlete so he can look after himself over a long season; and he can play in four positions.
Manoa is a force of nature, and he has been in tremendous form again this campaign.
3. Niki Goneva, Leicester Tigers
The league’s leading try scorer had been irrepressible this season and scooped the club’s player of the year award this week.
He has scored 11 tries in the league to maintain the Tigers’ campaign for a top four slot, with eight of those coming since the turn of the year. In this nick he could yet propel the Tigers to another title.
A titanic struggle against Saracens beckons in the semi-finals, which would bring Goneva into battle against another wing in red hot form, Chris Ashton.
The big Fijian is bang in form and will be one of the favourites to take this accolade home.
2. Chris Pennell, Worcester
Pennell has won a new army of admirers this season.
Extra credit must go to the full-back for performing so well in a side that went hurtling towards relegation from the season’s first whistle.
He has scored tries, kicked goals and tackled his heart out for his team, and he deserves Premiership rugby next year if a club can take him away from the Warriors, with whom he signed a new three-year deal this season.
The Independent’s Chris Hewett recently wrote:
Those with eyes to see will surely select the Worcester man in their end-of-season Premiership XVs, even if the Midlanders finish bottom and are consigned to a spell of out-of-sight, out-of-mind torment.
After all, it is not every full-back who offers, in total adversity, a faultless defensive game and a long-range kicking option while simultaneously acting as his team’s attacking mother lode.
In the Premiership alone, there has not been a full-back to touch Pennell, and the fact you can say that about a player scrapping it out in a team at the foot of the table makes his season all the more impressive.
1. Jacques Burger, Saracens
Burger is the top dog in the Saracens wolf pack, the name given to the mentality instilled in the Fez Heads defenders by coach Paul Gustard.
The Namibian back-rower has returned from a career-threatening knee injury to hurl himself back into the rough stuff. And while his performances in the Premiership have helped Saracens to the top of the table, it was his display in the Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne that really eclipsed all others.
Burger made an eye-watering 27 tackles.
The Telegraph’s Mick Cleary wrote:
On an afternoon of extraordinary events Burger’s play was elemental: fierce, unrelenting, selfless and totemic. He broke Clermont’s spirit, capturing the essence of this Saracens side by committing his body and soul to the cause.
Where he went, sacrificing any notion of personal welfare as he hit hard, again and again and again, everyone else followed. He made 27 tackles, all of them ferocious, all of them influential, contributing to what was the most all-encompassing display from an English side in the 19-year history of European rugby.
Of all the players on this list, Burger most embodies the spirit of his entire team, and he delivers those values in spades week after week. He has to be No. 1.