At the end of a long but entertaining campaign, Planet Rugby features writer James While has dished out his Alternative Awards for the Premiership season.
Best Fan Experience: Northampton Saints
Every touchpoint of Franklin’s Gardens is professional, welcoming and homely. From the veritable cornucopia of food outlets, to the ease of parking and the pristine nature of the ground, it’s a model of rugby excellence and one that continues to set the benchmarks for fan experience. Harlequins gets an honourable mention for its atmosphere and fan engagement, as does Gloucester for its brilliant and always humorous atmosphere.
Best Golden Oldie: Richard Wigglesworth (Leicester Tigers)
To win one Premiership title is most player’s dream; to win seven and for three different clubs is quite remarkable and the impact the 39-year-old continues to have on every team he represents is quantum. Blessed with one of the best kicking games in the business, his ability to pressure the connectivity of the opposition number eight and scrum-half is a feature of his game. He also has the best pass completion of any scrum-half in the Premiership with a whacking 93% completion rate and he shows no sign of finishing quite just yet, with Brad Thorn’s record of 40 years and 109 days well within his compass. Honourable mentions go to Jimmy Gopperth of Wasps and Bristol Bears rock, prop John Afoa.
Best Fan Innovation: The Big Games (Harlequins)
On May 21, Twickenham Stadium hosted their neighbours Harlequins in Round 25 against Gloucester, attracting nearly 50,000 spectators in a thrilling and family orientated day called The Big Summer Kick-Off. A few months prior to that Harlequins faced Northampton Saints at the same venue when a whopping 72,735 fans came out in support! With the salary cap reduced and with teams struggling to get back to profitability post-Covid, events such as these are cash cows for the beleaguered clubs and the event, combined with the sizzle around it, was an absolute knockout success.
Most Consistent Referee: Karl Dickson
Although it’s hard to ignore the claims of Wayne Barnes and Luke Pearce, Dickson’s journey to the elite referees of the game is almost complete. When he first started, a few criticised his interpretation of the jackal and breakdown, but hell, the guy is a scrum-half so you have to expect him to protect his own species. But, humour aside, Dickson’s sheer consistency in his application of the laws and his focus on getting pace in the game has been a revelation this season and we wish him well with his summer Test schedule. An honourable mention to Matt Carley – a man who referees with the most laconic sense of humour going and possibly has the longest arms in the history of refereeing.
Best Rugby Writer: Alex Lowe (The Times)
The new rugby editor of the Times, Alex Lowe, is a considered and intelligent scribe, always looking to unpack detail and to strive for thoughtful and thought provoking coverage. A occasional contributor to the Planet Rugby podcasts, Lowe also broke the British and Irish Lions team story last year and he continues to set the benchmark for the keen reader. An honourable mention goes to Charlie Morgan (The Daily Telegraph) for his brilliant statistical analysis.
Best Rugby Media Personality: Sarra Elgan (BT Sport)
From her absolute sense of humour to her siren-like dress sense, Elgan has anchored so much of BT Sport’s coverage this year that she probably also wins the award for mileage covered during a season.
Always fun, always direct and inquisitive, her interviews have both pace and pathos and she remains a jewel in the crown of the assets of BT’s coverage, with an honourable mention to her fantastic BT Sport cohort, Craig Doyle.
Best Media Team: Leicester Tigers
Slick, honest and punctual, Gary Sherrard and his team at Tigers continue to set the standard in access, organisation and open engagement. Our only criticism is the cramped nature of the infamous ‘Classroom’ but when you get the player access and open conversations that Tigers offer, it’s a small price to pay for dealing with such a professional organisation. Just always remember, you don’t call Steve Borthwick ‘Borthers’ on Gary’s shift! Honourable mention to Tim Percival and Jack Miller at Northampton Saints.
The ‘Get Well Soon’ Award: Elliott Stooke (Wasps)
One of the game’s most engaging and eccentric characters, the Wasps lock was in such blistering form this season that an England recall looked on the cards until he shattered his fibula in an innocuous incident in a home game. BT Sport chose not to show replays of the horrific injury as the lock was administered gas and air and stretchered from the field before being taken to hospital. In his best form, it was an untimely injury for Stooke and all in the game wish him a speedy recovery.
Gold Watch Award: Don Armand (Exeter Chiefs)
After an outstanding period at Sandy Park, big Armand bids farewell to Sandy Park after nine seasons of peerless back-row service.
With 193 games, 37 tries and a couple of England caps to his name, the Harare-born giant could have played a lot more for England if luck had gone his way. No player has been more important to Exeter than Armand and he will be missed. Honourable mentions go to Sean O’Brien (London Irish) and Tim Swinson (Saracens).
Best Playing Facilities: Northampton Saints and Franklin’s Gardens
The easiest of all awards, the playing surface at the Gardens is cricket square perfect and gives you the feel that every single blade has been manicured individually an hour before kick-off.
With two superb practice facilities behind the stand and a well-equipped gym, Saints players live a life of luxury compared to other clubs. An honourable mention goes to London Irish, who fuse the wonderful Hazelwood Centre with their playing home at Brentford.