Ranking Top 10 Players in the 2013/14 Rabodirect Pro 12

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJune 4, 2014

Ranking Top 10 Players in the 2013/14 Rabodirect Pro 12

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    Leinster finished the 2013-14 RaboDirect Pro12 season as deserving title defenders, beating Glasgow Warriors in a home final to clinch back-to-back championships for the first time in their history.

    And now that the dust has settled, we break down which 10 players have made the most of their league contributions over the last nine months.

    All but one of our selections made it into the Pro12 Team of the Year, and it won't be surprising to see that the less-impressive Italian outfits fail to see any of their representatives nominated. 

10. Jonny Gray, Glasgow Warriors

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    The Warriors are very much a work-in-progress despite making their way to the RDS Arena final this season, and Gregor Townsend has a very promising batch of young talents emerging under his command.

    Scotland's Jonny Gray is among that number, and after making his international debut in 2013, the younger brother of Castres' Richie has only gone from strength to strength in cementing his place as a key Scotstoun figure.

    The 2013-14 end-of-season awards saw the lock claim this term's Young Player of the Season, and it's incredible how confidently the starlet has slotted into first-team matters for Glasgow considering he's still just 20 years of age.

9. Sean Cronin, Leinster

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    As is becoming a trend in the modern front rower, Sean Cronin's athleticism with ball in hand might be a shock to some after taking a first glance at the Ireland international.

    In 16 Pro12 appearances, the hooker notched two tries and boosted his prospects of some day taking Rory Best's throne as Ireland's No. 2.

    Cronin's campaign was summarised aptly with a mobile and energetic outing against Glasgow in Saturday's final, where he once again showcased his fondness for carrying the ball into contact and Leinster have benefited greatly from having such a presence structuring their pack.

8. Robin Copeland, Cardiff Blues

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    Starting in July, it will be Munster who benefit from the talents of homebound Irishman Robin Copeland, but Cardiff Blues will undoubtedly remain grateful to their brawling No. 8 for this season's fine work.

    The Wexford native is known for possessing a temper, picking up two yellows and a red this term, but the positives far outweigh the negatives in his case.

    Lurking around the fringes of many a ruck and maul, the 26-year-old's bruising figure propelled the Blues into enemy territory on many an occasion, and Mark Hammett can only hope that the incoming Manoa Vosawai can be nearly as effective.

7. Andrew Trimble, Ulster

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    There were a few years where it was uncertain if Andrew Trimble's injury woes would ever allow him to reach the potential that was so clear as he began to establish prominence at Ulster.

    And thankfully for the Irish province, the utility back is now producing the kind of offensive threat that they will have always hoped to see, teaming up alongside a raft of other stellar attacking figures at Ravenhill.

    Trimble gave a fine impression of his talent in a defensive sense, too, as Ulster finished the term with the second-stingiest defence in the Pro12, but it's his ignition from the flank and in the centre that he'll most fondly look back upon the 2013-14 campaign.

6. Alun-Wyn Jones, Ospreys

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    The reaction to Alun-Wyn Jones' contract extension at Ospreys spoke volumes in itself of just how highly the Wales talisman is valued at the Liberty Stadium, and there would have been a massive void to fill had he instead opted for new pastures.

    With Sam Warburton still absent through a shoulder injury, Jones is set to once again captain his national team on their tour of South Africa, and if there were to be a trait of the lock that challenges his intensity on the pitch, it's that of how big a voice he lends to whatever squad he's leading.

    The Welsh Rugby Writers' Association elected Jones as their Player of the Year as he failed to complete the 80 minutes in just four of his 13 league appearances this season.

5. Jeff Hassler, Ospreys

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    Arriving at the Liberty Stadium as a relative unknown last year, not much will have been expected from Canadian international Jeff Hassler.

    Twelve months down the line and his prolific form has seen him finish joint-second in the Pro12 scoring ranks with eight tries to his name, setting the standard for what looks to be a very promising career.

    At 22, there's clearly a lot to come from the winger-cum-centre, but the propensity with which Hassler was so eager to get possession and let his footwork do the damage has been a beautiful thing to watch at times.

4. Johann Muller, Ulster

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    Ulster's back line often rakes in a lot of the plaudits at Ravenhill, but it's a steady and reliable pack force that gives the team some substance, of which Johann Muller is seen as the leader.

    The former South African international was named as captain of this season's Pro12 Dream Team, and Ulster couldn't have hoped for the lock to produce on a much grander scale before hanging up his boots at the end of this season.

    Defensively, the towering figure has excelled; on the ball, he's been a grinding figure in making his way past the gain line. The Irish outfit will have a hard time replacing their departing veteran.

3. Casey Laulala, Munster

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    Munster's season may not have been the success that those at Thomond Park have grown accustomed to in years gone by, but the club's knack for plugging certain voids with tremendous transfer acquisitions has continued with Casey Laulala.

    The Limerick outfit will have been glad to get the two years out of Laulala that they did before he bids farewell for Racing Metro, and this season pointed out as vividly as ever just how sorely he'll be missed.

    The Munster man's most enamouring trait is his unselfishness, and while he failed to cross the try line this season, his pace in breaking enemy lines before bringing teammates into the fold has been mesmerising at times.

    Laulala played the whole 80 minutes in his first nine games of his season, and even though things tailed off slightly as the demand in fixtures grew, Rob Penney nevertheless saw an awful lot of his team's tries produced by the creativity of his most consistent centre.

2. Gareth Davies, Scarlets

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    And another fine figure hoping to step out of the Welsh shade in the wake of a television settlement will be Scarlets' Gareth Davies, top try scorer of the 2013-14 Pro12 campaign with 10 in 19 outings.

    There's a burgeoning group of future Welsh international stars emerging at Parc y Scarlets, and one would think that Davies will soon be challenging the likes of Mike Phillips and Rhys Webb for Warren Gatland's No. 9 jersey, starting with his first cap(s) in South Africa this summer.

    As prolific a scoring figure as any other in the division over these past nine months, it will be a tough call for the scrum-half to top his own standards next term, putting the explosive qualities under his bonnet to great use this term, providing a keen chain of ammunition to the fast-and-furious Scarlets attack.

1. Dan Biggar, Ospreys

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    Despite the confusion during the Six Nations, there should no longer be as great a dispute in regards to who takes Wales' No. 10 jersey for the tour of South Africa following on from Dan Biggar's sensational 2013-14 form.

    The Ospreys playmaker was voted as Pro12 Players' Player of the Year, finishing the season as top points scorer thanks to his 219-point haul, at least 30 points more than any other managed.

    Ospreys were slightly unfortunate in failing to make the playoffs this season, but with the Welsh region dispute over broadcasting and league structure finally reaching some period of calm, Biggar can hope better squad prospects lie ahead, instead of just individual magnificence.