A tale of two flankers
April 24, 2012
James Scaysbrook has enjoyed a superb season for the Exeter Chiefs © Getty Images
The Aviva Premiership season is teed up for an epic final weekend and it's that time of year when awards are handed out. After seeing the six-man shortlist for the Player of the Year crown, there are two standout candidates for me.
I'd either give it to Chris Robshaw or James Scaysbrook but it's too hard to tell between the two as they're both the energy inside their teams. They've both had fabulous seasons with Robshaw at the centre of everything that Quins have done well and on a personal level he was superb in the Six Nations. Scaysbrook has also had a fantastic year for Exeter but there's another two or three players who could've made the list. Haydn Thomas has been superb but when you look at Scaysbrook's stats he's played in every single game the Chiefs have had in the Premiership. His work rate is first-rate and I think the Exeter coaching staff would argue that a couple more could've made the cut.
The other nominations have all had good seasons but those two just shade it. Saracens' Brad Barritt's broken into the England squad and you could almost say that he's become a permanent fixture in that side moving forward. In the early part of the season there was that game where they played against Leicester at Welford Road and he was brilliant and my Man of the Match.
Harlequins' Mike Brown is top of the stats list for carries and metres gained and although he hasn't got the recognition he probably wanted for England, that should not detract from a great season. Leicester's Julian Salvi has had a great season but there's also other players who could've got the nod on the shortlist from that club. Steve Mafi has been superb as have Marcus Ayerza and Horacio Agulla. It's a tough one but Salvi, in terms of around the breakdown is the best - an area of the game where matches are won and lost.
Then there's Nick Wood. There is no doubt that he is a great player but Gloucester have hardly had a standout season and their pack has struggled at times. That is perhaps harsh on Nick as in a different scrum he could go on to great things but looking around the Premiership in terms of props; Soana Tonga'uiha has been superb as has Ayerza. Dan Cole is another who could've got the nod along with someone like Carlos Nieto - so they could feel aggrieved at not making the cut.
With regards to the director of rugby award, you have to give that to the Exeter Chiefs' Rob Baxter after their incredible season but for me the biggest turnaround has been the Tigers. The amount of stress and pressure Richard Cockerill was under during the World Cup was just immense but he handled it superbly. They have since put in probably the best run of games in the Tigers' history in terms of performance and their natural progression has been down to not only Cockerill but also Matt O'Connor. Baxter shades it but if Leicester go on and win the title then Cockerill deserves it.
I think everyone has put their money on Leicester to win the Premiership but when you get to the knockout stages you're not allowed much time around the breakdown. Leicester seem to score a lot of tries from turnovers and if you're playing a lot tighter then those turnovers are harder to come by.
Current champions Saracens are almost playing under the radar at the moment but certainly they have the fire power to take on anyone on their day but they just lack the physicality that Jacques Burger gave them last year and that could be the deciding factor.
So whoever steps it up in terms of physicality should win the competition and at the minute you'd say that is Leicester.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby
ESPN looks at the forthcoming season of the Guinness PRO12 and assesses how each of the 12 teams will do
"Like the Treaty of Versailles, despite all the promises, the new Participation Agreement is certainly not the final solution." John Taylor writes
"We know where we are going and we know where we want to get but how long that will take is anybody's guess." David Humphreys on his plans for Gloucester
Jim Mallinder and Justin Burnell were sat on the same top table, but in different circumstances. Tom Hamilton reports on the Aviva Premiership season launch