As we’ve reached the half-way stage of the Premiership season, intermingled with four grueling, enthralling, blockbusting rounds of the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups, I thought it would be appropriate to look back on the 11 rounds of the Premiership, and acknowledge the players who I feel have been the most outstanding up to Christmas:
Runner up: Mike Brown, Antony Watson
This was a tough call between Pennell and Brown, but in a struggling side, Pennell has given the Worcester Warriors such go-forward in a struggle side, and consistently looks threatening. Brown is sensational in the air, but Pennell eclipses him with ball in hand. Young Antony Watson has also impressed with some fine performances for Bath, and will certainly develop into an outstanding player with years of experience at this level under his belt.
14): Mark Cueto:
Runner up: Jack Nowell
Mark Cueto has really impressed me so far this season, finishing some good tries, running some sharp lines, and giving some neat offloads. He is clearly benefitting from playing outside a very talented backline. Jack Nowell ran him close, looking dangerous with an utterly outrageous step, good pace and an ability to read the game and defensive line in front of him, which has seen him gain many fans this year, even receiving praise from players such as Bryan Habana.
13): Veriniki Goneva:
This was an absolute no brainer. Govena is lethal, running awesome lines, popping up in midfield, making mountains of line breaks and regularly gives neat offloads to create try scoring opportunities for his teammates. I wish he was English!
12): Luther Burrell
Runner up: George Pisi.
I don’t understand how he wasn’t selected at 12 for England in the autumn. Burrell has the ability to play as a first receiver on the crash ball off 9, as well as running more freely and beating defenders with either his feet or his offloading game. George Pisi provides a very good back up option with power and pace at his disposal.
11): Tom James
Runners up: Jamie Elliot, Marland Yarde
Another tough call, but James edges it. He regularly leaves his wing to hunt for the ball, creating distractions for his opponents, which leave his teammates in some space. When he does get the ball, he runs good lines, has a great step and often makes big yardage on his carries. Yarde and Elliot have been in good form however, scoring 3 tries each and looking threatening with ball in hand.
10): Danny Cipriani
Runner ups: Andy Goode, Stephen Myler, Gareth Steenson
Absolute no-brainer for me; CIpriani is the form fly half in the league at the moment, and it’s clear to see that his stint away in the Super 15 has seen his style alter rapidly. I particularly enjoy the way he attacks the gain line, and then unleashes bullet passes to leave his outside backs in acres of space. Although he’s only scored 75 points in the league, when Goode has 90, Myler 115 and Steenson 117, he has an x factor mixed in with excellent tactical kicking and distribution that is seeing him challenging for a spot in the EPS, with Burns out of form, Flood leaving for Europe, and Farrell under pressure for his spot.
9): Danny Care
Runner up: Lee Dickson
Care has massively impressed me; scoring 4 tries, looking sharp around the breakdown, and just terrifying defenders with his electric speed. Dickson has been solid, but doesn’t possess the X factor that Care has. Care and Cipriani would be an eccentric combination, but one that could possibly work.
8): Sam Dickinson
Runners up: Nick Easter, Dave Ewers
This was a tough call, but Dickinson edged it for me, as his running is destructive and he draws in defenders, helping to create space and quick ball for his team. His finishing is also impressive, scoring 4 tries, often from quite far out. Easter’s versatility and all round skill set, and Ewers carrying have seen them impress, but Dickinson edges It with his raw power and destructive nature around the field that see him win the jersey.
7): Billy Vunipola
Runner up: Francois Louw
A very unorthodox choice at openside, but I wanted Billy desperately to be on my team. His move from Wasps to Saracens has seen his game develop, developing the ability to play anywhere across the back row. The artificial turf at Allianz Park has seen his running become even more destructive, and helped the step up into the Number 8 jersey for England. He definitely has so much more to offer, as at the tender age of 21, he has his whole career ahead of him.
6): Samu Manoa
Runner up: Guy Thompson
Samu Manoa is one of the best players in the Premiership at the moment. His versatility is impressive, having the ability to play as a Second Row, Blindside Flanker or Number 8; he is blessed with a super offloading game, setting up tries for his teammates with silky offloading. His raw power is explosive at the breakdown and at the scrum, he can jump in the lineout, and he is blessed with a superb ability to break through the line and to finish opportunities, scoring 4 tries this season. Guy Thompson has impressed with his debut season in the top flight, but all the talking should be about Manoa, and rightly so.
5): Dean Mumm
Runner up: Damien Welch
When you have two second rows who are in as such good form as Mumm and Welch are for Exeter, then it is always a massive bonus. Mumm edges it for me, as his international experience helps his gritty and inspirational approach up front. He’s also scored 5 tries so far this season, a phenomenal amount for a second row, and some of them are superb. Welch has scored 4, and is playing supremely well, but is not as inspirational as Mumm for the Chiefs.
4): Courtney Lawes
Runner up: Ed Slater
Courtney Lawes appears to have been revitalized this season. His lineout calling has really excelled, taking the role of Geoff Parling for England. His physicality has increased, putting in some utterly monstrous hits, although he is still prone to missing the odd tackle. Ed Slater is also impressive with solid performances for Leicester, and surely it is also a matter of time before he is given a shot in a white jersey.
3): Ethan Waller
Ethan has been solid on the tight head for Northampton, helping to create a strong platform for an exciting backline. His scrummaging is very good, as is his work rate around the field. Keep your eye on this one.
2) Dylan Hartley
Runner up: Tom Youngs
Since his red card in May, Hartley has come back a revitalized player, leading a very strong Northampton Saints side to great success in domestic and European competitions. His throwing and hooking are very good, but his work rate, carrying and tackling are sensational. He has almost certainly won back the England jersey from competitor Tom Youngs. Youngs has been solid for Leicester, but nowhere near the level of Hartley’s performances.
1): Joe Marler
With Alex Corbisiero out with a long-term injury, Marler has really been putting his hand up with some very impressive performances for Harlequins. His scrumagging has got much stronger, with an equally impressive work-rate around the park and good work at the breakdown. It will be an interesting battle between him and Mako Vunipola for the loosehead jersey, as it is very even between them at the moment.