It would take a super-human player to be consistently excellent across the nine-month endurance test that makes up a Premiership season. But equally it was fair in this list of the 10 Best to overlook those who started slowly and made up for it later, or vice versa. International performances, too, were off limits.
In the bracket bubbling just under the 10 there were obvious choices such as Saracens’ No 8 Billy Vunipola, who has been coming on strong since the New Year, and others much further from the limelight who have really caught my eye: Ian Whitten, the Exeter centre/wing, who always seems to make something happen in a match, and Josh Beaumont, the Sale lock/No 8 - to name but two.
And don't groan, but Sam Burgess is surely worthy of praise for making his way in rugby union in first-team action, under such scrutiny, with a face full of metal after his operation and about five minutes of preparation (stellar career in rugby league notwithstanding of course). Burgess has made Stuart Lancaster’s willingness to at least have Burgess around the England squad understandable, and the newbie has a growing affinity with the blindside flanker role.
As we near the end of one of the most enjoyable league seasons for a long time, everyone will have their own favourites. The main reason I plumped for Charlie Hodgson was that with new born twins among five children at home he had every cause to take his eye off the ball, but he very rarely did. Hodgson is a brilliant fly-half, proving the maxim that some things in rugby can be learnt only by experience. While plenty of players 10 years his younger have been getting prizes elsewhere of late, I’m glad to hand King Charles this particular crown.
10) George North, Northampton wing
The immensely likeable Welshman was racking up tries and heading for a stellar season before concussion cut him down. Uses quick feet to shift his big frame unpredictably, and a hard worker for the team.
9) Samu Manoa, Northampton lock/No 8
Off to Toulon next season, and they do not sign mugs. Manoa’s monstrous attacking was dissipated slightly by switching positions and doing international duty for USA, but still a major force on Premiership scene.
8) Thomas Waldrom, Exeter No 8
No rugby man is an island, and the Chiefs’ No.8 has been driven forward by the mighty Dave Ewers at his side. But Waldrom’s league-leading 16 tries has been staggering reward for his Dean Richards-like ability to know where the ball will be or needs to be.
7) Jamie George, Saracens hooker
In an era of front-rowers swapping in and out, Schalk Brits’s injury gave George greater game time and he has not withered. Strong in set-piece, his improved carrying has attracted top-level attention.
6) Sinoti Sinoti, Newcastle wing
Try poacher whose power and glory were summed up in a skittle-scattering score versus Bath last month. Sports-car acceleration and slightly more reliable than Wasps’ brilliant but defensively vulnerable Christian Wade.
5) Jonathan Joseph, Bath centre
The players’ player of the year, always a good sign. Killer outside breaks in a breakthrough season with England, not a moment too soon, founded on a quality club partnership with George Ford and Kyle Eastmond.
4) George Ford, Bath fly-half
Starting almost every week for England and a title-chasing club has never visibly fazed the laconic Lancastrian. Unwaveringly bold when running at the defensive line, he has kept Sale’s Danny Cipriani in his shade.
3) Nathan Hughes, Wasps No 8
Signed by Wasps two years ago to succeed Billy Vunipola, and has edged the England incumbent for consistency this season. Hughes is patenting the lavish one-handed carry, but has much more to his game than that.
2) Henry Slade, Exeter fly-half
Overdue an England debut, unceasingly stylish yet tough enough to have done sustained service in the centres. Slade confounds the beastliest of opponents with his heads-up running, sharp passing and super-sweet left foot.
1) Charlie Hodgson, Saracens fly-half
Most player-of-the-year shortlists have been dominated by youngsters, but the venerable Mr Hodgson gets the casting vote here. A wily, wondrous master of the fly-half art, and a joy to watch, every time.Reuse content