It won’t go down as a blockbuster year in Premiership rugby history, with only Saracens qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Champions Cup and Gloucester English rugby’s sole representative in Bilbao this coming weekend, but it hasn’t been all doom and gloom in the competition this season.
A number of individuals have stood out, with some bursting on to the scene at club level, whilst others have gone on to debut in international rugby, such have been their performances at this level.
With the regular season now done and dusted, we have put together a XV of the most impressive players in the Premiership this season.
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- Willie le Roux, Wasps
The South African full-back is tailormade for the Wasps back line. You could be forgiven for losing count of the amount of times this season that le Roux has popped up inside Christian Wade, Elliot Daly or Josh Bassett, drawn the last man and then played a simple, precise pass to put the speedsters in for tries. Facilitator, finisher and fielder, le Roux has been sublime in Wasps’ backfield.
The Alan Shearer celebration at St James’ Park was one of the moments of the season, but it was a campaign full of highs for the Fijian wing, who finished the regular season with 13 tries, enough to put him joint top of the try scoring chart. Despite turning 34 last month, there still seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank.
- Henry Trinder, Gloucester
It has just been a joy to see Trinder back out on the pitch and injury-free and he quickly showed us all what we’d been missing in recent seasons. There’s a case to be made that Trinder runs the most incisive lines in English rugby, whilst he certainly doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities, either. He’d be a valuable addition to the England squad out in South Africa next month.
Honourable Mentions – Rob Horne, Joe Marchant
- Brad Barritt, Saracens
If Trinder is the knife in this XV, Barritt is the hammer. We’re all guilty, from time to time, of looking at playmaking 12s and thinking that’s the only way, but Barritt delivers so much and makes plays in other ways. He softened opposition up for Saracens this season, spearheaded the line in defence and led them with a composure and leadership that make him in the prototype captain.
Adams partners Goneva on the wing, just as he did atop to the try scoring charts this season. The last nine months have been a coming out party for the Welshman and Worcester now face an unenviable battle to keep him away from the WRU and any one of the Welsh regions, all of whom would love to add him to their ranks in the coming seasons.
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- Owen Farrell, Saracens
Even with international obligations and a couple of minor injuries, Farrell still takes this spot with a bit of comfort, such is his impact and all-round game. He plays at 12 for England because George Ford is a good fly-half and Farrell is the best 12 in the country, but he is also the best 10 in the country and that’s probably a conversation Eddie Jones and his coaching staff need to have this summer.
- Faf de Klerk, Sale Sharks
It’s fair to say that de Klerk has had a Francois Hougaard-like influence on Sale. Hougaard was the spark that saved Worcester from relegation last season and whilst Sale weren’t in similarly dire straits this season, de Klerk has helped them lift their game and is capable of the moments of individual magic that can change a match in an instant.
Stone Genge. If there’s a more exciting front-row forward in the loose, we’re yet to see him. The most impressive thing about Genge this season, though, has been the improvements he’s made at the set-piece and with his discipline, two areas you may have flagged up as concerning in previous years. He is now very close to being the complete prop.
If Jones is picking on form this summer, Cowan-Dickie should have first crack at the two jersey. Like Genge, he’s tightened up his set-piece work, most notably his throwing, whilst retaining all the power and dynamism that makes him such a threat in the loose. Minor, niggly injuries at the wrong times are all that is holding him back.
This man’s durability is incredible. Even with heavy workloads with both the British and Irish Lions and England, Cole has still been a stalwart for Leicester this season. As the form of other tightheads around the Premiership wax and wane, Cole continues to anchor scrums and exhibit his work rate and engine year after year.
Honourable Mentions – Nick Schonert, Vincent Koch
Green was pivotal this season to Newcastle’s success, proving an extremely proficient operator on both sides of the ball at the lineout. He led the league in lineout steals and was second for lineouts won, allowing Newcastle to both build a solid platform from which to attack and to also turnover ball and hit teams on the counter-attack.
- Nick Isiekwe, Saracens
With Maro Itoje busy with England and George Kruis suffering from injuries as well as Test call-ups, Isiekwe has risen to prominence in north London this season. Like Green, he was one of the premier operators at the lineout, making the top six in both lineouts won and lineouts stolen, but also showed his mobility, frequently playing at blindside and notching up over 200 tackles across the season.
He has seemingly yet to convince Jones of his merit, but Armand has been in thunderous form for Exeter and played a key role in their table-topping effort this season. With Dave Ewers’ injury problems and Sam Simmonds involved with England, Armand was the consistent tone-setter in the Exeter back-row and punished fringe and wide defences alike with his ball-carrying.
96% – @WaspsRugby's @jackswillis7 has a 96% tackle success rate in @premrugby this season (134/140), only 6 players to make as many hits have a better rate, whilst only 1 player to play 500+ mins had a better mins/jackal rate. Introduced. #RPAAwards18 pic.twitter.com/QonTqJmWkc
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) May 1, 2018
- Jack Willis, Wasps
Just as it has been for Adams and Isiekwe, this was Willis’ breakout season. He was a spark plug for Wasps and given they’re not quite the defensive masters that Saracens and Exeter are, his turnovers were invaluable to keeping Wasps in possession and attacking. Jones is very particular about his opensides but there’s not much more Willis could have done this season to warrant a place on the tour to South Africa.
Simmonds has taken over right from where Thomas Waldrom left off, scoring tries at an astonishing rate from number eight. His form has seen hm crack the England squad and whilst Waldrom was the master of the pick and go score from a metre out, Simmonds’ elusive running and pace have added another dimension to Exeter offensively.
Honourable Mentions – Sione Kalamafoni, Jono Ross
12 – @ExeterChiefs' @samsimmonds_ is the top try scoring (12) forward in @premrugby this season; of the 7 players to score 10+ tries he has the best rate (78 mins) whilst only 4 players to make as many tackles as him have a better success rate (95%). Scorching. #RPAAwards18 pic.twitter.com/vmrFhlPSix
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) May 1, 2018