Picking the Premiership's best
May 2, 2013
Who will succeed Quins' Chris Robshaw as the Premiership's Player of the Season? © Getty Images
I promise you, the job of selecting the shortlist for this year's Aviva Premiership Player of the Season carried with it precious little glamour, precisely no financial reward and an earful of helpful advice from friends and colleagues who have since wondered if I'd spent the last nine months commentating with my eyes closed.
Past winners of Player of the Season
It really is a thankless task, particularly so this season when I think it's fair to say there's been no outstanding performer who's stood head-and-shoulders above the rest, week-in week-out.
Watching more matches than is probably healthy for you hasn't helped either. By the time we're packing up our bits after Saturday's game at The Stoop between Harlequins and Northampton, I'll have taken in well over 40 matches from ESPN's commentary box this season and enjoyed at least half as many again on TV from the comfort of my own sofa.
Yet it seemed the more games I went to the muddier the waters became. Drawing-up the bunch of likeliest contenders has been as tough as I can ever remember.
The nine of us, who'd spent the season picking the monthly winner, had to settle on a shortlist of six for the end-of-season award. If you missed it, Steve Borthwick, Danny Care, Akapusi Qera, Julian Salvi, Christian Wade and Tom Youngs will be the ones perched particularly close to the edge of their seats at next week's big awards night at London's Park Lane Hilton.
You will probably disagree with one or two of the names we picked. You might even disagree with all of them. You will doubtless have ones of your own that don't feature. That was certainly the case when I visited Northampton this week. The usually warm reception I enjoy when engaging in a bit of pre-match prep at The Gardens was decidedly frostier this time, such was their disbelief after Samu Manoa failed to make the cut.
To clear up any impression that this was all my fault, I made the point to the men of Northampton that there were in fact nine of us on the panel. They asked who they were so I told them. Just in case you're wondering, they were writers Stephen Jones, Hugh Godwin, Adam Hathaway and Alan Pearey, broadcasters Miles Harrison, Alastair Eykyn and Jill Douglas and photographer David Rogers,
I'm not entirely sure you'd describe the process by which we came up with the shortlist as scientific, but around a table at Premiership Rugby's HQ next to Twickenham railway station, it worked for us. One by one we submitted our own top three. Your first choice earned three points in the voting, the second two points and the third one. For the record, my trio in descending order were Christian Wade, Tom Youngs and Will Fraser. One by one, in a Papal-style election, the names were whittled away until we had a winner.
I am bound by a strictly enforced confidentiality agreement from revealing the choices of my fellow judges, but I think I probably ought to tell you the correspondent from the Sunday Times got particularly excited when he spoke about Akapusi Qera and particularly grumpy when anyone disagreed.
We then went to work on who ought to be coach of the season and who scored the year's best try, which seemed to involve re-watching most of them. Once again, it was a lengthy process and as I suspect you've all got days to be getting on with I'll spare you the details.
Safe to say however that Sky's Miles Harrison refused to vote for any that had been on ESPN, while ESPN's Nick Mullins refused to see merit in any that had been on Sky. At that happy juncture, the committee meeting was brought to a close.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Nick Mullins is lead commentator for live Aviva Premiership Rugby on ESPN