Ranking Top 30 Players in the 2013/14 Aviva Premiership
Northampton Saints walked out of Twickenham as 2013-14 Aviva Premiership champions on Saturday, claiming a historic 24-20 win over Saracens after 100 minutes of frantic momentum swinging.
Alex Waller's last-gasp try sealed a dramatic win for Jim Mallinder's side, and with a summer of international rugby waiting around the corner, now is the time to look back and reflect on a campaign that didn't fail in living up to expectations.
It's difficult to ascertain what precisely makes up a successful season for an individual, but one of rugby's most enamouring factors is that any one player can shine, even in smaller surroundings, to claim their place among the elite.
With hundreds of players to choose from, we've ranked this season's 30 most impressive stars, taking into account the impact they've had on their respective sides' seasons during the league term.
It's inevitable that those players featuring for the higher-finishing outfits claim precedence in a ranking such as this, benefiting from the presence of superior teammates, but even those from the smaller clubs have had their say on our rundown.
Let us know who you think should have made it into the reckoning in the forum below, along with suggestions for how you might have ranked those included.
30. Jonny May, Gloucester
A ninth-place finish in the Premiership standings sums up a disappointing season for Gloucester, but the Cherry and Whites did have a number of star performers this season, of which Jonny May was one.
The utility back did his usual rounds in filling in where Nigel Davies needed him most at any one point, doing his bit at centre, fullback and winger, while finishing third in the try-scorer ranks with his tally of nine overall.
May's good form in the first half of the campaign was rewarded with his first England caps in the Six Nations, and his consistency was tremendous, failing to go more than two games without crossing the whitewash.
29. James Haskell, London Wasps
London Wasps' good form over the course of 2013-14 was given ample reward in the end, and Dai Young's team will now line up in the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup thanks to their playoff victory over Stade Francais.
And it's a testament to James Haskell's impact as a clutch figure at Adams Park that he was so impressive in the second, crucial leg of that fixture in particular, contributing a massively rounded display as the outfit reclaimed their place among the continental elite.
That being said, the controversial back-rower has been omnipresent in giving Wasps a much-needed sting this entire season, recognised with a return to the England fold for this summer's trip to New Zealand.
28. Owen Williams, Leicester Tigers
Some are startled by the fact that Owen Williams is yet to make his Wales debut, and in claiming prominence over Toby Flood this season, the 22-year-old has only furthered his reputation as quality fly-half prospect.
Granted, Flood's move to Toulouse had a major impact on Richard Cockerill's preference over who would take the No. 10 jersey for the majority of the campaign, but Williams' performances alone were arguably enough to put him in front of his English counterpart.
In 16 league appearances, Williams kicked 133 points for the Tigers, and his displays in pushing the side forth in their end-of-season run-in were especially important in putting them in playoff reckoning, only stunted by injury in the end.
27. David Wilson, Bath
Booming onto England's international scene from relative obscurity during this year's Six Nations, David Wilson has shown this season that he is very much an international-standard tighthead.
However, this list isn't concerned with national appearances, so it's a good job that his form for Bath was just as good over the course of 14 Premiership appearances, where he grew into his responsibilities as the campaign raged on.
With Paul James on one side of their front row and Wilson on the other, Bath excelled at the set piece, but the latter also showed that he has an incredible appetite in the loose, and his not-so-slender figure houses a shockingly agile carrier.
26. David Strettle, Saracens
The first of numerous Saracens stars to have made our cut is David Strettle, who may count himself as unfortunate not to be heading to New Zealand with the rest of the England squad this summer.
The former league talent is now one of the squad's longer-standing representatives, but Mark McCall has retained the services of his winger ahead of others, with OptaJonny pointing toward Strettle's 20 clean breaks as being the most of any payer this Premiership season.
Strettle also finished the season with just one try less than top scorer Vereniki Goneva, dotting down 11 times in total.
25. Billy Twelvetrees, Gloucester
Injury afflicted Billy Twelvetrees' 2013-14 endeavours, and it's a sign of his importance to the Gloucester cause that they looked such a different team without him in their line-up, and not for the better.
Like the aforementioned May, Twelvetrees impressed with his malleability across the campaign, switching between duties at centre and fly-half to ease the Cherry and Whites' woes wherever it was that they needed him.
Helped by three tries, Twelvetrees finished the term with 79 points to his name, and Stuart Lancaster will miss his presence in the first Test of the New Zealand tour, per Will Macpherson of The Guardian.
24. Kyle Eastmond, Bath
Not every rugby league convert is able to stand the test of union, but Kyle Eastmond's adaptation to the latter code went through another impressive development this season.
His scintillating and frequent darts through enemy lines were a joy to watch, and Lancaster has clearly been paying attention as the centre once again looks to have an impact for England this summer.
Eastmond's 2013-14 total of four tries may not speak the correct volumes of just what a marvel he can be when carrying or kicking from hand. His direct running style laid the foundations for many a Bath try this term, aided by some stellar handling skills clearly influenced by his former life at St. Helens.
23. Danny Care, Harlequins
Too often has Danny Care drawn criticism in the past, both for discrepancies on and off the field, but this season was a coming of age for the Harlequins scrum-half.
With Ben Youngs drifting out of form for Leicester, Care has established himself as the glaring first-choice option for England, but that resurgence was built on the back of some impressive consistency at the club level.
The Quins half-back grabbed six tries in 16 outings this season, but the flair, initiative and quick-snap judgement that he constantly portrayed from the back of the pack was unsurprisingly Care's biggest contribution on the way to the playoff semi-finals.
It's worth noting that Care also stood as a surprisingly strong defensive unit at times, helping his team concede just 365 points, the third-lowest of any team in the division.
22. Courtney Lawes, Northampton Saints
Courtney Lawes has gone through a state of ascendancy over the last 12 months, both for club and country, with his physicality in defence advancing his renown as being one of the heaviest hitters in the Premiership.
It's no surprise that Lancaster now calls upon the Northampton Saints star as the leader of his line-out, as Lawes put the domineering frame at his disposal to good use fixture after fixture.
The title-winning lock may be a defensive bastion worthy of all praise coming his way, but he also makes sure to make himself available as a valuable running asset in the wide channels. Saturday's final in particular showed off his terrific handling, acting as a useful foundation for George North and others, as he has done all term.
21. Chris Ashton, Saracens
Chris Ashton's mental fortitude underwent intense scrutiny over the past year, during which time his value as an England starter was questioned, but it's a sign of his character that the Saracens flyer responded in such fine fashion.
His eight tries weren't good enough to threaten the top-ranked scoring individuals, and even though teammate Strettle notched more points than him this term, Ashton's record of being substituted only once in his 17 appearances this season shows just how highly rated he is at Allianz Park.
What really came to the fore this season was the speedster's worth without the ball, too, and although his rushed lines can sometimes leave him susceptible on the back-foot, Ashton showed a real hunger to improve his defensive game, and it shows.
20. Stephen Myler, Northampton Saints
Not everyone was in agreement with Stephen Myler's nomination as Premiership final Man of the Match, but over the course of the campaign, there's no denying the influence the fly-half had on Saints' title-winning season.
Mallinder has far from the most revered half-back partnership at his disposal, but Myler did his reputation no harm as an individual asset this season, playing in 22 matches, scoring 245 points in total, an average of a little more than 11 points per game.
He doesn't possess the same carrying option that Owen Farrell might, for example, but Myler was a key figure in ensuring the likes of Luther Burrell, George Pisi and Ben Foden always had a steady chain of supply to rely upon.
19. Schalk Brits, Saracens
Maintaining his sensational standards en route to both Premiership and Heineken Cup finals, Schalk Brits could have easily been mistaken for a centre for great stretches of the last nine months.
The Springbok once again went above and beyond his duties as a hooker, particularly in the winter stretch, where he managed to score three tries in the space of five games.
Brits only played the full length of two Premiership matches this season, and his recall to the South African squad this summer shows that Heyneke Meyer sees what a phenomenal athlete he has at his disposal.
18. Joe Launchbury, London Wasps
It's hard to stand out when your club isn't necessarily bringing in the same results as your international peers, but Joe Launchbury's efforts for Wasps this season have been too good for Lancaster to ignore.
Alongside the aforementioned Lawes, Launchbury has developed an England lock partnership that now stands as one of the most respected in the world, and his Premiership endeavours were rewarded with a Rugby Players' Association Player of the Year nomination.
He didn't come out on top of that poll, but Wasps won't mind a jot after squeezing a terrific campaign out of their second-row sensation, the only downside being that his admirable work ethic is now bound to draw the gaze of the Premiership big guns.
17. Semesa Rokoduguni, Bath
Fijian by birth but now English by representation, Semesa Rokoduguni's journey in Lancaster's squad started last weekend as the Bath man made his international bow against the Barbarians.
This was the winger's most impressive season at The Rec yet, and the call from Lancaster signifies just what an impression his flashy displays have left upon opponents, despite only scoring four tries in three different Premiership matches.
BT Sport named Rokoduguni as part of its 2013-14 dream team, per the official Premiership Rugby Twitter account, and his history as a serving member of the army goes some way in telling us just how hard he's likely willing to work in ensuring it only improves from here.
16. Logovi'i Mulipola, Leicester Tigers
His sterling effort against Exeter Chiefs, attached, wasn't enough to win Premiership Try of the Year honours in the end, but Logovi'i Mulipola did claim his club's equivalent accolade at least.
And although this was the best of the lot to be finished off, there were a host of occasions where the prop made similar darts upfield, and it would be a tad hopeful to want each dart through the defence to end with the same result.
From 69 carries, Mulipola made 246 metres this season which, as OptaJonny states, is at least 52 more than any other prop. The Tigers' scrum didn't look too shabby with him fighting for their cause on the front lines, either.
15. Tom Wood, Northampton Saints
Making 17 league appearances, this wasn't Tom Wood's most prominent Premiership campaign in terms of playing time, but it's what he did with his time on the pitch that was most pivotal in 2013-14.
Chris Robshaw may have to keep one eye over his shoulder in the England camp after the Northampton Saints captain went through another state of evolution this term, providing Mallinder with a staunch and reliable voice en route to silverware.
The back-row bastion is gradually establishing his name as a flanker worthy of international respect, and although his style of dogged groundwork and sometimes unseen defensive input may go unrewarded at times, this year's title serves as recognition for his efforts as leader of his club.
14. Joe Marler, Harlequins
Without a doubt the most obscure personality in the England camp has shown a level of maturity on the pitch that it's hard not to find vastly amiable.
He might play the role of the joker, but Joe Marler's on-pitch approach is all business and despite a pressure-filled assortment of competition in the position, he looks nailed as Lancaster's first-choice loosehead, provided he's fit for the New Zealand Tests.
At just 23 years of age, Marler made his 100th Harlequins appearances this term, telling one just how capable he is of shrugging away childish traits. A modern mix of efficient set-piece work and solid defence paved the path for his selection to BT Sport's 2013-14 dream team.
13. Samu Manoa, Northampton Saints
After being elected as Saints' Players' Player of the Season in 2012-13, Samu Manoa enjoyed another stellar campaign at Franklin's Gardens, playing in 21 of his side's fixtures.
The USA international upheld an incredible consistency over that period, too, and many a team were subjected to the monolith's quaking frame, be it with or without possession.
Manoa also claims a berth in the BT Sport dream team, and alongside Lawes, has formed an incredibly daunting lock partnership that has given his side another dimension that many coaches dream of.
12. Dan Braid, Sale Sharks
And yet another call-up for the BT Sport line-up was Sale Sharks captain Dan Braid, who made a gutsy 17 appearances as the club ran to a sixth-place finish.
Braid played the full 80 minutes in 12 of those encounters, scoring six tries in the process and offering Sale an attacking outlet they may not have previously been aware they had their hands on.
It's what you'd come to expect from your captain but not every leading voice has the kind of confidence-boosting, morale-lifting effect a team would hope for. Along with his terrific contributions with and without ball in hand, Braid has done just that.
11. George North, Northampton Saints
There were many a question mark over George North's high-profile move to the Premiership from Scarlets in 2013, but Northampton Saints have seen exactly the kind of product they will have hoped they were buying.
Winning the league title in his first season at Franklin's Gardens, North was typically robust on Mallinder's left wing, bringing his usual blend of intense physicality and searing pace to the Saints setup. He benefited greatly from the mass of squad talent around him.
North finished the season with seven tries in 15 outings, and after taking a few games to acclimate to his new surroundings at the beginning of his tenure, the Welshman was unplayable at times later on in the year.
10. George Ford, Bath
The top points scorer this Premiership season, George Ford's move to The Rec didn't take long to begin bearing fruit for both player and club.
Gifted a new sense of importance as a first-team starter after leaving Welford Road last summer, the 21-year-old Oldham native seized the opportunity with both hands—and more importantly his feet.
Ford's call-up to the England setup may have borne even more fruit were it not for another fellow young fly-half standing in his way. But the playmaker is sure to challenge for the No. 10 throne in future after ducking, bobbing and kicking his way to an incredibly productive maiden season at Bath.
9. Nick Easter, Harlequins
The 2013-14 season was supposed to be something of a more relaxed one for Nick Easter, who started in 23 league matches this season, eclipsing the tally of 22 he managed in 2012-13.
Clearly not quite ready to hang up his boots entirely, the Harlequins leader last month became the club's most-capped player ever grabbing his 233rd appearance against Saracens, per Quins' official website.
The pack talisman won Premiership Forward of the Season credentials in the end-of-season awards, and as much as Easter's tireless work ethic in getting about the pitch makes him a wonderful asset to have around, his value as a voice for the team is also a quality worth taking into account.
8. Luther Burrell, Northampton Saints
It's no secret that Luther Burrell has been prolific in his early days as an England international, having received his first caps in this year's Six Nations.
But that impact was built on the base of a heavily involved campaign at Franklin's Gardens, where he started in all 20 of his league displays on the way to a Premiership title.
Burrell did well to grab five tries himself this season when one considers that his priorities came in creating the space for others to attack from, but he brought an incredibly balanced presence to the Saints' midfield.
His rugby league history has formed a potent mix of defensively sound positioning spliced alongside a positive carrying approach and terrific handling, each trait as evident as the last over the course of 2013-14.
7. Dave Ward, Harlequins
It's been an endearing tale of rags to riches for Harlequins hooker Dave Ward, who saw a gap of seven years separate his first and second Premiership starts.
Having made 21 league appearances this season, however, the Harlequins No. 2 jersey is indisputable, with Ward somehow summoning a previously unforeseen level of competition this term and was elected Quins' Player of the Year as a result.
The 29-year-old has carried like a bulldozer, been accurate at the set piece and, like Saracens' Brits, shown an athleticism in defence that wouldn't have you believe he's a front rower, and Ward is now looking to compete for his first England start in New Zealand.
6. Owen Farrell, Saracens
While one would concede that Farrell still has his immature tendencies, the majority would agree that England's No. 10 looks increasingly comfortable the more he features at the elite level.
With Marcelo Bosch and Alex Goode taking up their share of the kicking duties for periods and Farrell missing out on some fixtures through injury and international commitments, the Saracens starlet amassed 157 points this season, only the fifth-highest tally recorded.
However, it's not all about the scoreboard with Farrell, who offers a keen eye for gap exploitation when carrying and contributed more in 14 games than many figures did with full campaigns under their belts.
5. Billy Vunipola, Saracens
Could Saracens have asked much more of their No. 8 during his first season at Allianz Park?
Billy Vunipola was always tipped for big things after showing early signs of his potential with Wasps, but even McCall will have been pleasantly surprised with how successful the bruiser has been, thriving on the European opportunities afforded to him, as well as the domestic delights.
His rise to becoming England's standout choice at No. 8 says a lot about how swiftly Vunipola has adapted to featuring among such a star-studded cast, regularly garnering Man of the Match plaudits with his to-the-point carrying proficiency.
4. Chris Pennell, Worcester Warriors
Everyone likes an underdog, and even though Worcester Warriors' season couldn't have gone much worse, Chris Pennell's Player of the Year nominations provide the fullback with reason not to be too glum about his campaign.
The Warriors were desperate for inspiration on countless occasions in a term that saw them claim just 16 points, and while it may not have been enough to clinch survival, Pennell was often that ignition.
OptaJonny tells us that not only was the newly summoned England international the only player to star in every minute of the Premiership season, but he also led the division in carries, metres and defenders beaten, too.
3. Vereniki Goneva, Leicester Tigers
With 12 tries in 18 matches this season, Goneva has the honour of collecting the Premiership's top try-scorer award, and he was unfortunate not to have led Leicester Tigers into another Twickenham finale.
The Fijian was also named Aviva Premiership Players' Player of the Year, and the only thing better than Goneva's try tally itself is the high-octane manner in which some of those efforts were scored.
The back superstar is far from just a finishing talent, however, and his work in laying the base for others to attack from, not to mention his graft in stopping the opposition's probing, has also been typically laudable.
2. Mike Brown, Harlequins
England Player of the Year isn't an accolade that comes around too often in a player's career, but Mike Brown's growth has been realised at the international level now, seeing him into an elite fold of world fullbacks.
Harlequins finished the season as the lowest-scoring side in the playoffs, but Brown's six tries were a major boost, largely thanks to his mesmerising runs from deep, many of which fans will remember seeing in the 2014 Six Nations.
But this is a celebration of Premiership form, and in a team that's not entirely made up of stellar attacking talents, Brown served as a talismanic presence for Quins, time and time again getting his team out of a scrape, as much with his defensive nuance as his forward-thinking drives up the field.
1. Jacques Burger, Saracens
Sacrifice is a term that few will understand as well as Saracens flanker Jacques Burger, whose body is in need of a well-deserved break following the close of 2013-14.
The Namibian is far from the prettiest of performers (take that as you may), but one could well argue that Saracens wouldn't have been such a success in their Premiership or Heineken Cup runs without his dogged approach.
Having made just six Premiership appearances in the two seasons prior to this one, Burger's 16-game comeback is a terrific tale of one very deserving figure overcoming adversity, and his tough-tackling style isn't to be eclipsed by more glamorous candidates.