Monday, 29 June 2015

UltraSubMarines Awards 2015

Later than usual this year we once again dive it my mind and discover its many, varied and often conflicting opinions about Tigers and our year.

Off the bat it’s fair to say this has been our annus horribilis on just about all fronts.  Playing wise it was the worst for a decade, Paul Burke became the first coach sacked by the club since 2007, bookended by the most dispiriting and devastating defeats I can honestly remember.  Off the field we’ve had a star player convicted of assaulting women police officers and a coach found to have made a profit betting on us to lose and banned.

We also said goodbye to Louis Deacon a truly iconic player of the club, after Martin Johnson Deacon is Leicester’s finest home grown lock, and Anthony Allen a stalwart of the club’s success between 2010 and 2014.

But let’s not wallow in it.  Let’s crack on with the awards! Same order as last two years:

Signing of the season
2013: Vereniki Goneva
2014: Owen Williams

Tigers were as busy as ever in the transfer market last summer securing Freddie Burns, Seremaia Bai, Brad Thorn, Christian Loamanu and Italian international trio Michele Rizzo, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Robert Barbieri.

Much was expected of Burns but he struggled for form in the early half of the season.  Once Owen Williams was ruled out with injury and his place secure he did grow into the role and was exceptional against Wasps at the Ricoh.

Brad Thorn arrived gave his all and had a real presence about the field but age had slowed him down to a glacial pace at times.

Loamanu showed glimpses of his potential against Wasps and in the late season but a niggling injury meant we never saw the best of him consistently.  Seremaia Bai was a steadying hand for much of the season and a canny addition.

My signing of the season though has to be the aggressive and rambunctious Italian hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini.  I’ve long admired his performances in the Six Nations and he did not disappoint upon closer inspection.  Accurate in the lineout and daring around the field Ghiraldini is the perfect foil for Tom Youngs.

Try of the season
2013: Adam Thompstone v Treviso (A)
2014: Vereniki Goneva v Newcastle (A)

Slim pickings for this award this season.  Normally I peruse the list of matches and the scorers, come up a quick shortlist and google the tries to refresh my memory and make a decision.  Some years it’s easy, this year not so much.  Not a single winner of the Premiership’s Try of the Week and it seems just one nomination.

In the end though we did score some crackers and my favourite was Vereniki Goneva’s second score away to Northampton in December.

Inside his own half and only recently introduced Miles Benjamin receives the ball after Mat Tait had regathered his own up and under.  Going inside then out Benjamin scorched past 4 men and into the 22, a superb cover tackle stops him short but Ben Youngs is on had to quickly clear the ball.

Tait again is involved shipping the ball onto Ghiraldini who draws the last man and finds Goneva lurking on the wing to apply the finish.

Game of the season
2013: Premiership Final v Northampton
2014: Montpellier away

Despite the season several games still standout as really memorable performances.  Wasps at the Ricoh and Sale at home were glimpses to what we can achieve when we pass the ball whilst the game in December again Toulon was a classic backs against the wall true grit performance.  The performance against Ulster at home in October also hinted that this team could do it on the biggest stage.

But one game stood out for me.

Comebacks are surprisingly rare in Tigers history, certainly not from 15 points down and with only 30 minutes to go.

Sale away, December 27th.  Tigers were in the lead for a grand total of 3 minutes.  The locals were not best pleased as we left the ground.

Sale had torn us apart in the first half, genuinely exciting attacking rugby cut us to ribbons and we did well to keep the score respectable, stopping two tries over the line.  When they crossed for the bonus point try in the 45th minute it looked grim.

But Ayerza, Tom Youngs, Balmain, Thompstone came off the bench and changed the game.  Miles Bejamin scored in the corner to make the game one score then Julian Salvi was driven over by Seremaia Bai with just those 3 precious minutes remaining.


Academy Player of the Season
2013: Henry Purdy
2014: Owen Hills

A quick re-cap here, to qualify for this award you must have played in the Premiership U-18s league.

Tigers U-18s finished second to Northampton in the northern section and beat Bath to claim third place overall.  Last year’s winner Owen Hills had another strong year with 6 tries in 6 starts including a hat trick against Leeds and a first start for the A side.

Four players featured for the U-18s and made first team appearances.  Charlie Beckett started the first game of the U-18s season against Gloucester and made his First XV debut away to London Irish in the LV Cup making a further start at home to Sale and a bench appearance against the Barbarians.  Charlie Thacker featured from the bench in the games against London Irish and Sale whilst Stone Priestley-Nangle featured in the Sale game too.  George Nairn played 3 games for the U-18s and came off the bench against the Barbarians and Cardiff.

Hills and Beckett also appeared for England Under 20s.

My academy player of the year is Charlie Beckett, strongly built with a terrific work ethic this Liverpudlian has already featured for the First XV and impressed.  With a long line of players in front of him he will have to learn from each of them to overtake them but he certainly has the potential to push ahead.

U23 Player of the Season
2013: Manu Tuilagi & Ben Youngs
2014: Manu Tuilagi

With Manu Tuilagi “graduating” from this age bracket there is no defending champion here; qualifying players include Fraser Balmain, Owen Williams, George Catchpole and Harry Thacker. 

Catchpole over took Matt Smith to become a feature of the match day squad post-Christmas, whilst Harry Thacker was trusted with two starts in November where he excelled.

Really though the award is a toss up between Fraser Balmain and Owen Williams.  Balmain become a fixture in the side last season almost by default but this season he was rightly rewarded with being preferred in the match day squad to Italian test prop Michele Rizzo who was in good form himself.

Williams was shunted to 12 early in the season to cover the injuries to Anthony Allen and Seremaia Bai but once the injuries slightly abated he re-claimed his starting 10 jersey from England fly half Freddie Burns.  According to Williams was the best kicker in the Premiership last season and without his cool head many of the tight games before Christmas would have gone the other way.

Therefore my Under 23 player of the Season has to be the Welsh wizard Owen Williams.

Player of the Season
2013: Tom Youngs
2014: Vereniki Goneva

2013’s winner makes a strong case for the award again as his industry and attitude were priceless in many of this season’s lower moments.  Also worthy of a mention in dispatches is Graham Kitchener.  The lock forward came of age as a leader this season, his no nonsense side coming to the fore in the trench warfare of winter whilst his pace and fitness is invaluable in the later season.  How Stuart Lancaster can ignore him is beyond me.

But this season’s stand out player has been the stand in captain Ben Youngs.  Quickly promoted to an unnatural leadership role due injury Youngs thrived on the responsibility and Tigers never looked better than when he took more of the play making responsibilities onto his on shoulders.

A quick and accurate pass is a pre-requisite for a scrum half so it is the game management where Youngs excels, his box kick is world class whilst this season we saw the return of his trade mark breaks around the base.

On a personal note he secured the starting jersey for England ahead of Richard Wigglesworth and long-time adversary Danny Care and seems certain, injuries permitting, to play for England in this autumn’s World Cup.

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