Chris Hewett’s Aviva Premiership team of the season

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Independent’s Rugby Union Correspondent picks his XV of the best – the men whose talent, physique, attitude and application have really made them stand out in 2012-13

Click HERE or 'VIEW GALLERY' to launch our guide...

1. Marcos Ayerza, Leicester

Some players are so central to a team's performance you notice them most when they're not there. The Argentine, the best-performing loose head around, was marmalised in murky circumstances by Bakkies Botha in the Heineken Cup quarter-final in Toulon. Since when, the Tigers have struggled for close-quarter authority. 

2. Neil Briggs, London Welsh

One of the campaign's heroic figures: a man who routinely spent an hour in the molten heat of the front row before rounding off his afternoon with a 20-minute stint on the open-side flank. Is he crazy? Probably. But not so mad as to make himself unemployable. Leicester have snapped him up and will surely get their money's worth.

3. James Johnston, Harlequins

My, how Quins will miss their Saracens-bound, 21-stone prop, an anchor heavy enough to hold an ocean-going liner firmly in place, whatever the weather. It is possible that of all the players who helped transform the Londoners from vague wannabes to serious achievers, the Samoan was - and remains, for another 80 minutes at least - the most transformative of the lot. 

4. Samu Manoa, Northampton

The hard-hitting back-five athlete Courtney Lawes could have been? Lawes may yet make the most of himself as an England forward, but when Saints' opponents worry about someone these days, it's the Californian. If the Yanks could find a dozen others to play alongside Manoa, Chris Wyles and Taku Ngwenya, they'd be world champs.

5. Steve Borthwick, Saracens

So the former England captain does not carry the ball like Martin Johnson or maul like Simon Shaw. So what? If he did those things on top of everything else, he'd be John Eales incarnate. As a line-out operator he is still miles ahead of the game; as a setter of standards and keeper of the Saracens flame, he is indispensable.

6. Dan Braid, Sale

A left-field candidate for the "smart signing of the season" award? Heaven knows, Sale made errors of judgement over the course of a traumatic campaign, but flying the All Black halfway round the world was not one of them. Before Braid's arrival, the northerners had won four of their 18 matches. After it, they won eight from 16 and drew another.

7. Will Fraser, Saracens

If the outstanding Julian Salvi of Leicester considers this an insult, fair enough: the Australian has been quite something this term. But a player who suddenly appears from the back end of Nowheresville to propel himself into England contention, as Fraser did before succumbing to injury last month, is equally worthy of note.

8. Nick Easter, Harlequins

Something of a Marmite figure, our Nick: no one ever says "Easter? I can take him or leave him." But if he polarises opinion with that old-style, Harlequins sense-of- entitlement manner of his, he can sure play a bit. The last No 8 on earth to do things by numbers, his unique brand of heads-up rugby was a joy to behold.

9. Richard Wigglesworth, Saracens

The Saracens way made flesh: clever and clear-headed, with a ruthless streak as wide as his relentless one. There are more explosive half-backs in and around the Shires, Ben Youngs and Danny Care being the obvious examples, but when it comes to mastering a tactical brief and pushing the right buttons at the right times, Wigglesworth has the advantage. 

10. Freddie Burns, Gloucester

If there were moments when Gareth Steenson of Exeter played like an international stand-off, Burns thought like an international stand-off even when he was playing badly. Technique can be taught; imagination is unteachable. If England are seeking a No 10 blessed with ideas - and, what is more, the skills to bring them to fruition - they need look no further. 

11. Marland Yarde, London Irish

Jonny May of Gloucester was the thrill-a-minute merchant, Adam Thompstone of Leicester the functional finisher, but Yarde's combination of pace and power is irresistible. Brian Smith, the Exiles coach, predicted months ago that the England age-grouper would earn himself a full cap PDQ. Argentina now beckons.

12. Anthony Allen, Leicester

The reason Leicester were less than grief-stricken when they lost Billy Twelvetrees to Gloucester a year ago. Allen's understated mix of physicality and reliability, allied to an acute footballing intelligence, is one of the base ingredients of the Tigers' game. Flakiness is held the deadliest of sins at Welford Road. Allen is the last man to fall apart. 

13. Joel Tomkins, Saracens

Slowly but surely, the rugby league imports are fathoming out ways of playing the union game in decision-making positions. Tomkins has a neat line in offloading, cuts some interesting angles in attack and knows what to do defensively in the most exposed position on the field. Saracens conceded a miserly 25 tries in 22 league matches, which tells its own story.

14. Christian Wade, Wasps

Stuart Lancaster is not prone to hyperbole, so when the England coach says there might be something concrete behind all the "new Jason Robinson" flimflam, it is incumbent on the rest of us to sit up and take notice. Not that you need to be Carwyn James to detect special qualities in Wade, whose footwork is a gift from the gods.

15. Luke Arscott, Exeter

An old-school buccaneer at the heart of the new force in Premiership rugby, Arscott added panache to the Sandy Park mix and did as much as anyone to ensure a top-half finish. As bold under the high ball as he was on the counter, he might have made the England squad for Argentina had he been a couple of years younger.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders