And the winner is...
May 12, 2011
Soane Tonga'uiha has won our award for Player of the Season © Getty Images
The Aviva Premiership's regular season is done and dusted, meaning that it's awards time. Tuesday night saw the great and good of the league turn out for the official awards, but after digging out our thinking cap(s) we've handed out some gongs of our own in Scrum Sevens.
Player of the Season
It's as though we are stood behind him in the bakery - we can't look past Soane Tonga'uiha. The giant Saints prop has been at the heart of their dominant scrummage both domestically and in Europe and brings explosiveness around the park that few other front-rowers can muster. Followers of David Flatman's excellent column in The Independent will be familiar with the modern prop forward's battle against skin-tight shirts, the conditioning staff and their primal urge to consume food and beer, but the old clichés just don't apply to Tonga'uiha. His breakdown work is precise and abundant, his support angles well-judged and his offloading game is better than those of certain centres. A worthy winner of our award, even if he was somehow overlooked for the official shortlist.
Director of Rugby of the Season
When Exeter entered the Premiership, few would have said that they would be above three former champions in the table on the last day, but they did just that. Rob Baxter, a former Chiefs player, masterminded their brilliant Championship play-off win over Bristol last season and refused to take a backwards step in the top flight, where his side rolled Gloucester, Northampton, Wasps, Harlequins and Saracens, among others. With Sandy Park already one of the tournament's most atmospheric grounds, Baxter has cultivated a squad worthy of the surroundings and recent additions Sireli Naqelevuki and Jason Shoemark have settled in among the stand-out likes of Tom Johnson, Tom Hayes, Haydn Thomas and Gareth Steenson. They look like they'll be around for a while.
Young Player of the Season
At just 19, Owen Farrell has become one of the most valuable players in the Premiership. His chance in the Sarries starting line-up came due to a long-term injury to Derick Hougaard and he took it with aplomb. Along with a good kicking game and ability to stick to Sarries' meticulous gameplan, Farrell also has a competitive streak a mile wide and while several teams have attempted to 'get in his face', most have been sent packing. The play-offs will provide another level of competition for the youngster and the chance to test his mettle in knockout rugby, with Sarries' Heineken Cup campaign the one real low of their season. Having been selected for the England squad at the Junior World Championship, higher recognition may elude him, but don't be surprised to see him in a Saxons shirt before too long.
Moment of the Season
The sin-binning of Juan Gomez. Leeds' 24-point blitz in the opening 20 minutes of their do-or-die clash against Northampton last weekend threatened to turn the whole season upside down. All of a sudden, the Yorkshire side were set to overhaul Newcastle and avoid relegation and Northampton were to miss out on a coveted play-off place to Bath. Referee Andrew Small binned Gomez for a scrum infringement as the Saints hammered away at a backpedalling Leeds pack, reducing them to 13 men following Lee Blackett's yellow card for fighting. The Saints soon registered a penalty try and with it the momentum to overhaul Leeds and return the Premiership to its previous self.
Try of the Season
Try as we might, we can't look past the official selection, so Schalk Brits, come on down! The Saracens hooker rounded off a brilliant score against Gloucester last month, highlighting his brilliant support play by popping up either side of winger James Short's powerful charge. Top marks also go to Alex Goode, for sparking the move after a Freddie Burns penalty hit the post, and David Strettle, who kept the ball alive.
Tackle of the Season
Tonga'uiha made a number of players look foolish this season with his irresistible combination of pace and power, but Newcastle's Andrew van der Heijden wasn't one of them. The Kiwi lock arrived midway through the season from NPC side Auckland, adding grit in defence to a Falcons side that struggled throughout the campaign to remain competitive.
Game of the Season
When teams share 82 points between them, somebody usually gets a hammering. That wasn't the case at Welford Road on April 16 as Leicester played out the highest-scoring draw in Premiership history, finishing all-square with Gloucester at 41-41. An Alesana Tuilagi hat-trick gave the Tigers a 14-point lead in the second-half but their usual grit and composure deserted them in the closing stages as Gloucester centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu pounced for an interception, leaving Burns to level the scores with the extras. The Tigers had never conceded as many points on their own track before and the sides could still meet in the final. If they do, dig out the abacus.
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