Northampton Saints back row forward Tom Wood was named Aviva Player of the Season at the Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards at Old Billingsgate in central London this evening (Tuesday 10th May 2011).
The Coventry born forward only joined Northampton this season after having come through the successful Worcester Warriors Academy, making 48 Premiership Rugby appearances with Worcester before his summer move to Franklin’s Gardens. 24 year old Wood made his competitive debut for Saints in their win over local rivals Leicester Tigers on the opening day of the Aviva Premiership Rugby season and from that moment never looked back.
13 further appearances for Northampton followed as well as an England debut in the first Six Nations match of the season against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, further testament to his stellar early season form for the Saints. Injury in the midweek match against Gloucester Rugby on April 19th may yet deprive Saints of Wood for their Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final and the Heineken Cup Final a week later.
The Land Rover Discovery of the Season award, presented to the best player aged 21 years or under on the day of the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final, was awarded to Leicester Tigers’ centre Manu Tuilagi. Tuilagi is the latest of the brothers to play for the reigning Premiership Rugby champions and was another to make his debut in the opening day clash between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints after successfully graduating from Leicester’s academy.
Since that time, Tuilagi has gone on to play in all but three of Tigers’ Aviva Premiership Rugby matches, scoring seven tries, including a brace against both Newcastle Falcons and Sale Sharks and a try of the season contender against Saracens in March. Tuilagi has also moved quickly through the England ranks, adding an England Saxons cap to his previous England age grade experience.
The final major award, the QBE Director of Rugby of the Season, was presented to Northampton Saints’ Jim Mallinder. Northampton Saints go into May with a chance of claiming a domestic and European double, with an Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final against Leicester Tigers this weekend to be followed by the Heineken Cup Final against Leinster.
Saints opened their 2010/11 Aviva Premiership Rugby campaign with a win against Leicester Tigers and led the league at the turn of the year. Postponements, injuries and the loss of a number of players to international duty saw their league form suffer, but Mallinder guided them to a semi-final place with a win over Leeds Carnegie on the final day of the regular season. In tandem with their strong league form, Saints are the only side to win all their matches in the Heineken Cup this season and play Leinster in their first Final for over a decade.
Mallinder has also coached a group of talented young English players and enabled them to both play for and achieve success with their country. Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes are an integral part of Martin Johnson’s squad, with Tom Wood joining that group just this year.
The MBNA Try of the Season was awarded to Saracens’ hooker Schalk Brits for his try against Gloucester Rugby in round 21. A penalty from Gloucester fly half Freddie Burns hit the post, Saracens gathered the rebound and attacked from their own line, with Brits showing his now famous skill and pace to complete the move.
The evening began when Brits’ Saracens team-mate Hayden Smith was presented with the Aviva Community Player of the Season Award for his work on the ‘Hitz’ programme. Hitz is a pioneering inner city rugby coaching programme that targets some of London’s most deprived boroughs.
Hayden has been a staunch supporter of Hitz since its inception and often makes his own way down to Haggerston Park in Hackney, one of the six London Boroughs involved, gets stuck into the coaching and talks to the children involved.
Aviva Premiership Rugby new boys Exeter Chiefs gained recognition for their efforts in their first season in the top flight with an awards double. Their captain Tom Hayes was named captain of the ESPN Dream Team as selected by ESPN analysts Austin Healey and Ben Kay.
The duo selected Hayes as the captain of their team for his inspirational leadership of Exeter Chiefs in their first season of Aviva Premiership Rugby and the Irishman leads a team comprising five Northampton Saints, three Saracens, three Leicester Tigers, two Harlequins and one from Newcastle Falcons.
Hayes’ team-mate Tom Johnson won the Gatorade Performance of the Season Award for his efforts in the Chiefs’ round nine Aviva Premiership Rugby victory over Sale Sharks in November.
To find a winner, Gatorade used a formula devised by Opta Sportsdata, the official Statistics provider of Premiership Rugby, to award players points for things like metres gained, number of carries, turnovers won and tackles made.
It was a busy night for Newcastle Falcons’ Jimmy Gopperth. After being named as fly half in the ESPN Dream Team and being nominated in the Aviva Community Player of the Season category, Gopperth then picked up the Gilbert Golden Boot for the second season in succession. The former Blues fly half finished the season with a personal tally of 230 points, with 215 of those coming from the boot at a success rate of over 80%.
Alesana Tuilagi joined his brother Manu as an award winner as the Leicester Tigers wing claimed the Guinness Top Try Scorer of the Season Award, with 12 tries to his name including one on the last day of the season against London Irish. Tuilagi now has 37 tries in 92 Premiership Rugby appearances for Tigers.
Concluding the list of award winners was Saracens scrum half Kevin Barrett who was named the inaugural J.P. Morgan Asset Management Premiership Rugby 7s Series Player of the Season. Barrett used all his England 7s experience to lead a young and talented Saracens squad to the first ever J.P. Morgan 7s title as they beat Newcastle Falcons in the final at Bath’s Recreation Ground.
The winners and nominees in full were as follows:
Premiership Rugby Player of the Season 2009/10, Chris Ashton, Northampton Saints2008/9, Chris Robshaw, Harlequins2007/8, James Simpson-Daniel, Gloucester Rugby2006/7, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leicester Tigers2005/6, Mike Catt, London Irish2004/5, Martin Corry, Leicester Tigers
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Director of Rugby of the Season 2009/10, Andy Key, Leeds Carnegie2008/9, Richard Cockerill, Leicester Tigers2007/8, Dean Ryan, Gloucester Rugby2006/7, Pat Howard, Leicester Tigers2005/6, Philippe Saint-Andre, Sale Sharks2004/5, John Wells, Leicester Tigers