It was last September, less than a fortnight before the World Cup got started in Japan, that Premiership Rugby circulated its media guide for the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership season.
At its new-season launch at Twickenham in early September, long before the action eventually got going on the weekend of October 18, a dozen players to watch out for were listed in the league’s preview for the season ahead.
With that campaign now grounded to a sudden halt with just 13 of the 22 regulation season rounds off fixtures played due to the coronavirus outbreak, RugbyPass sifts through the chosen candidates to gauge how they fared:
Ruaridh McConnochie – Bath
‘His meteoric rise continued, as the winger was named in England’s 2019 RWC squad’ – Premiership Rugby Media Guide
The England World Cup squad member picked up a knock not long after his return from Japan and he only really came into his own in 2020. Started five times on the left wing in the league, scoring three tries to help his club into sixth place. The 28-year-old made an average 6.9 metres per carry and beat 17 defenders. His 40 carries clocked up a metre total of 276 in 400 league minutes.
Nathan Hughes – Bristol
‘He will add power and dynamism to Pat Lam’s already exciting squad’
A marquee signing from Wasps, he put any disappointment at being overlooked by England to effective use by appearing in all 13 of the Bears’ league games, starting in twelve and playing 918 minutes in their gallop to third place. The 28-year-old No8 signed off having conceded 13 penalties and 20 turnovers, but those shortcomings were offset by his other contributions. He made 648 metres from 176 carries (an average 3.68 metres per carry), beat 60 defenders, made eleven clean breaks, scored twice and won seven turnovers. Comes fifth in Premiership Rugby’s top ten list of players for 2019/20 based on their Opta Index scoring system.
Stuart Hogg – Exeter
‘Rob Baxter’s biggest capture of the close season’
The signing from Glasgow fitted in seven league starts despite being away at the World Cup in Japan and then becoming Scotland’s skipper for the recent Guinness Six Nations. The full-back’s eagerness to play was encapsulated by his start versus Gloucester six days after the Scots lost to England, the 27-year-old chipping in with his only Premiership try that night at Kingsholm to rid himself of the demons of dropping the ball over the Ireland line 13 days earlier. His 556 league minutes for the table-toppers witnessed 580 metres off 89 carries, a 6.52-metre average. There were 25 defenders beaten, a dozen clean breaks and seven offloads, the downsides being concession of eleven turnovers and nine missed tackles for a 63 per cent success rate.
TOP ? PLAYERS OF THE SEASON ?@OptaJonny have crunched the numbers based on their Opta Index scoring system and these are the best performers ?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 31, 2020
Ollie Thorley – Gloucester
‘The 23-year-old put together a highlights reel of memorable moments last season’
A star in his club’s run to the 2018/19 semi-finals, he started ten games in a campaign this term that tapered away in recent months with the string of defeats that leaving Gloucester slumped in ninth spot. The left winger’s 741 minutes featured a 552-metre gain from 81 carries, an average 6.81 metres per carry in a season where he beat 31 defenders, made 15 clean breaks, popped seven offloads and scored four tries. The black marks were concession of nine turnovers and missing 14 tackles for a 70 per cent success rate.
Cadan Murley – Harlequins
‘The pacey, young winger is widely regarded as an exciting talent’
Injuries were the story of the London club’s season, but the 19-year-old was a beneficiary as he started on the wing in nine of his ten appearances and scored five tries to help Quins into seventh. Making his strike rate even more impressive was how limited his possession was during his 632 minutes, carrying for 233 metres off 39 possessions, a 5.97-metre gain per carry. There were seven defenders beaten, seven clean breaks, four turnovers won and an 84 per cent tackle rate, the downside being his concession of nine turnovers.
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Jordan Taufua – Leicester
‘A Crusaders regular since 2014, he made his 100th appearance in the 2019 semi-final’
Despite only arriving in late October after helping Tasman to a maiden Mitre 10 Cup triumph following yet more Super Rugby glory with the Crusaders, the 28-year-old back row still managed to catch the eye in a difficult season for the eleventh place Tigers. There were seven starts, six at openside and another at No8, and his 437 minutes produced two tries, ten defenders beaten, seven offloads, 24 passes, an 83 per cent tackle success, five turnovers won and an average 2.65-metre carry in a 146-metre total off 55 carries in traffic. His work-ons were concession of six penalties and a half-dozen turnovers.
Waisake Naholo – London Irish
‘He looks set to excite the Madjeski Stadium crowds in the upcoming campaign’
The ex-All Black winger immediately announced himself at the eighth place Exiles, confidently grabbing a cross-kick on his debut and racing in to score versus Leicester in Reading. He then followed up with a solo stunner at Bristol off an intercept. However, the 28-year-old managed just 310 league minutes and a total of four starts, avoiding some of the depths of the English winter by returning to New Zealand on paternity leave.
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 29, 2020
Matt Proctor – Northampton
‘He established himself as one of the best midfielders in the southern hemisphere before switching’
Snapped up from Chris Boyd’s old Hurricanes stomping ground, the 28-year-old ex-All Black had six league appearances and 344 minutes before the season halted, four games as a starter at outside centre. He was an instant hit at Franklin’s in helping Saints to reach fourth spot, scoring twice on his league debut versus rivals Leicester in late November.
Lood de Jager – Sale
‘Steve Diamond made his intentions of bringing in world-class international forwards clear’
Was a headline-grabbing signing for Steve Diamond but Sale fans were left waiting to see the World Cup-winning second row in action as a serious shoulder injury during the November final against England sidelined him. The initial prognosis was a six-month lay-off, but the 27-year-old savaged that prediction. He made a 25-minute debut off the bench in Sharks’ last outing on March 6, helping them spin a 15-0 lead over London Irish out into a 39-point drubbing and give a vibrant glimpse of the enforcer type contribution the second-place team bought him for.
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 27, 2020
Alex Lewington – Saracens
‘He is expected to make a splash in all competitions for the Men in Black’
The 28-year-old made ten starts in his dozen league appearances, mostly on the left wing. His 791 minutes featured 26 defenders beaten, 13 clean breaks, ten offloads, three tries and 475 metres off 62 carries, a 7.66-metre average per carry. On the other side of the ledger were a 64 per cent tackle success rate and concession of 13 turnovers for the club that won nine of its 13 games despite suffering automatic relegation due to salary cap breaches that have them bottom of the table.
Malakai Fekitoa – Wasps
‘The powerful centre already has a wealth of experience on his shoulders’
The 27-year-old ex-All Black was a powerful presence in his nine starts at outside centre, beating 27 defenders, making eleven clean breaks, giving eight offloads, scoring twice, passing 38 times and carrying 466 metres off 86 carries, an average 5.42 metres per carry. On the debit side, he was yellow-carded twice for fifth place Wasps, conceded six penalties and seven turnovers.
Ted Hill – Worcester
‘The 20-year-old has now become a first-team regular and continues to impress’
Now 21, the blindside can look back on a very productive campaign where he started in a dozen of Worcester’s 13 league games and played the full 80 minutes in every start. That robustness highlighted how much more dependant Alan Solomons is now on the youngster who made seven of his 18 league appearances last term off the bench. The downside is he has lost his surprise element as his six-try haul in 2018/19 dropped to just one this term, an opening day score versus Leicester, as he became more of a marked man in his 960 minutes. His general excellence, though, resulted in a contract extension in November through to summer 2022. Comes eighth in Premiership Rugby’s Opta Index top ten list for the season so far.
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