As the Aviva Premiership and Pro12 seasons drew to a close on the weekend it seemed like a good time to reflect on a wonderful season in European rugby. Saracens and Glasgow were fitting champions, while it was only right that the Champions Cup play-off between Gloucester and Bordeaux-Begles was decided by a nerve-jangling late drop goal.
It is still all to play for in France of course, but as we wait for the Top 14 play-offs, here are the 360Rugby Awards…
– #Quiz360: Monday – WIN Vivitar Action Camera
Player of the season – Jonathan Joseph (Bath)
This may seem like a strange choice given Bath finished the season empty handed, but the impact Joseph had for both club and country this season was unparalleled across the continent.
Joseph’s was truly a breakthrough campaign, with the former London Irish centre announcing himself on the European stage with a monstrous display in Toulouse that helped his side to a 35-18 victory in France, while also helping them to the Premiership final.
His try on Saturday came too late to save Bath, but his performances at Twickenham for England this season have been impressive and have enabled Stuart Lancaster to deal decisively with Manu Tuilagi’s off-field problems.
Team of the season – Toulon
There isn’t much that can be said about Bernard Laporte’s expensively assembled side that hasn’t already. Toulon wrote their names in the history books this season with their third successive European Cup win, playing a brand of rugby that few can live with.
They could yet finish the season with a second successive Top 14 title, and having beaten their closest rivals, Clermont, in the Champions Cup final few would bet against them doing just that.
Most improved team – Wasps
Exeter and Bordeaux-Begles both ran the nomadic Premiership club close for this prize, but due to the sheer meteoric nature of their rise, Wasps get the nod.
Ahead of their move to Coventry, the six-times English champions had lost eight of their 13 games in all competitions, while their Champions Cup hopes hung by a thread. Cue a run to the last eight in Europe and a top-six finish at home all played out in front of record crowds at the Ricoh Arena. Not much to live up to in their second season in the Midlands, then.
Coach of the season – Gregor Townsend (Glasgow)
Leading Glasgow to their first-ever Pro12 championship, becoming the only Scottish team to lift the trophy, is some achievement for Townsend. That his side did it in the manner they did makes it all the more impressive.
The Warriors won more games than any other team in the competition, and sealed the title with a four-try rout of Munster. Further evidence of the work done by Townsend should come with the number of Glasgow players picked for Scotland this autumn.
Find of the season – Maro Itoje (Saracens)
Itoje started the season as an exciting prospect, and finished it as an outside bet to make an impression for England at the World Cup. En route the Harrow-educated forward captained Sarries to A League and LV= Cup success while starting their Premiership final win over Bath.
Try of the season – Joe Simpson (Wasps v Exeter)
Injury looks to have robbed Simpson of his World Cup dream, and that definitely looks like being England’s loss. Against Exeter, the scrum-half displayed his searing pace, picking the ball up in his own half before streaking through the whole Chiefs defence to score a wonderful solo try.
Most unlikely solo try – Xavier Chiocci (Toulon v Castres)
Simpson isn’t the only quick rugby player of course, but few thought Chiocci possessed the jet-heeled pace he showed in Toulon’s win over Castres last month. Watch the prop fly…
Best rant – Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon)
Few thought Castrogiovanni’s return to Leicester last December to be a quiet one, but no-one could have expected the fireworks that followed his side’s 25-21 defeat at Welford Road. The Italian prop felt he had been misrepresented following his exit from the Tigers, and proceeded to unleash a ferocious verbal attack on his former boss Richard Cockerill.
In fairness to Castrogiovanni, he referred to himself as a “hairy f*cking Italian”, but found himself in hot water after suggesting Cockerill was an unprintable four-letter word on more than one occasion.
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