Aviva Premiership Awards
The best and worst of a thrilling season
May 16, 2014
Mike Brown's had a fantastic season © Getty Images
As the Aviva Premiership enters the play-off stage, it is only right to hand out some end-of-season awards.
There have been some truly remarkably performances over the past 22 rounds with Niki Goneva leading the way on the wings and Mike Brown at fullback. In the pack Jacques Burger has led from the front with body and bulk on the line but Brown has excelled for club and country and deserves this accolade.
It simply has to be Saracens. Despite Sale's impressive season and Harlequins' late rally, Sarries have been fantastic all campaign and lost just three games out of 22, an incredible effort.
The likes of Sam Jones, Elliott Stooke, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Anthony Watson and Owen Williams have all played well over the course of the season but it is down to two players for this - Saracens' Billy Vunipola and George Ford. Vunipola's performances for England see him edge this.
Jonny May's try in Round 22 of the season is a late shout for this but Jamie Elliott's against Gloucester takes the award. An incredible piece of individual play from George North teed up Elliott who scored what looked to be the match-winning try, only for Billy Twelvetrees to slot a penalty minutes later.
Northampton's game against Gloucester back in Round 3 was a belter but Harlequins' win over Exeter in Round 21 edges this. Quins fought back from 23-5 down to eventually win 30-29 and it was a triumph which helped them into the end-of-season play-offs.
Sale's Steve Diamond. They have gone from narrowly avoiding relegation last season to establishing themselves in the top six.
Team of the Season
Richard Cockerill and Diamond had a war of words in the wake of Leicester's win over Sale back in December. Cockerill was less than impressed with Sale's scrum, saying: "If Steve Diamond is coaching scrums like that we might as well go home because it's a waste of time." Diamond responded: "He can bleat as much as he wants but when you operate on a £4m budget, not six or seven like they do here, then he can come into the real world and coach people with not a lot of resources."
Chris Pennell's performances for Worcester have been nothing short of heroic. Even though their season ended in relegation, Pennell played nearly every minute for the Warriors and deserves some sort of medal for his never-say-die attitude.
TMO award for delaying rugby
Something has to be done about the TMO. It is slowing the game up and far too often it is used as a safety net. It should be restricted to being used in the act of scoring a try or as a referral system by captains for foul play in a similar manner to cricket.
Dean Richards' comments about journalists, newspapers and over-the-hill wingers qualify for this gong, even though his views were aired in a fans forum meeting.
Gavin Henson, James O'Connor and Danny Cipriani were all accidents waiting to happen at the start of the season and although Henson was on the wrong end of a Carl Fearns' jab in a Bath pub, they have behaved impeccably. The trio have given everything to their respective clubs and Henson and Cipriani have done enough to force their way back into international reckoning.
Edge of seat brilliance
Niki Goneva at Leicester has been box office this season, an absolute pleasure to watch. It is great for the Premiership that he has spurned the advances of Castres to stay at the Tigers, though the news was probably not as eagerly welcomed by the various Premiership teams' defences.
The West Country derby at Kingsholm had it all - red cards, tries, controversy and passion. Tavis Knoyle's decision to take the law into his own hands and inflict some rough justice with some flailing hooks levelled in the direction of Leroy Houston sees him claim this.
Zeroes to Heroes
Sale Sharks. As mentioned in the Coach award above, they have played with a new backbone and Salford will not be a place for easy pickings next season. The likes of Cipriani, Michael Paterson, Dave Seymour and Dan Braid have all been fantastic.
The 15 or so minutes Bath spent on one continuous scrum against Sale, during their match on March 28, was dire.
Services to the game
We have seen some great servants to Premiership rugby bow out this year. George Chuter called time on his career after 14 years in the top flight and Steve Borthwick will do the same at the end of the season. Both deserve to put their feet up and reflect on impressive careers.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.