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Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards 2016 – the winners

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Alex Goode was tonight named Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Season at a glittering ceremony in central London.

The Saracens full-back has enjoyed a stellar season as his club lifted their first European Rugby Champions Cup and made the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals for the seventh successive time.

"Alex Goode has been one of the Aviva Premiership Rugby’s most consistent performers for a number of seasons but in this campaign has been hugely influential in Saracens’ success and has produced some of the best form of his career," said Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby.

"Alex’s explosive pace, quick feet, game management, kicking game and exceptional distribution skills have been the platform for a number of Saracens’ victories this season.

"Alex is a product of the very successful Saracens Academy and, along with several other players in this current squad, is an example of the quality which can be produced by investment in resources and support staff for young players."

A one-club man since his A League debut against Bath in January 2004, Goode has gone on to win 20 England caps and played in every minute of four Aviva Premiership Rugby Finals from full-back, winning twice in 2011 and 2015.

Goode has now made 144 appearances in Premiership Rugby (141 starts) scoring 18 tries, 43 conversions, 90 pens and two drop goals for 452 points, with a kick success rate of 76.9%

He is one of Premiership Rugby’s most prolific full-backs, starting 131 games in the No.15 shirt, a total only bettered by the 2014 Player of the Season Mike Brown (175), and Geordan Murphy (132).

Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Season shortlist:

  • Don Armand – Exeter Chiefs
  • Alex Goode – Saracens
  • Maro Itoje – Saracens
  • Charles Piutau – Wasps
  • George Smith – Wasps
  • Gareth Steenson – Exeter Chiefs

Previous winners:

2014-15 – George Ford (Bath Rugby)
2013-14 – Mike Brown (Harlequins)
2012-13 – Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
2011-12 – Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
2010-11 – Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)
2009-10 – Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints)

On an incredible night for Saracens at the Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards, Mark McCall was named Guinness Director of Rugby of the Season after steering his side to an unforgettable day in Lyon last weekend – when they lifted the European Rugby Champions Cup for the first time in the club’s history – and to a home Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final this Saturday against Leicester Tigers.

A winner of the award twice before, McCall joined Saracens at the start of the 2009-10 season as first team coach, and in that first season helped guide the club to their first Aviva Premiership Rugby final.

Capped 13 times by Ireland, the former inside centre coached Ireland U21s and Ireland A, and was assistant coach at Ulster for two years before being given the head coach’s job in 2004.

Guinness Director of Rugby of the Season shortlist:

  • Rob Baxter – Exeter Chiefs
  • Steve Diamond – Sale Sharks
  • Mark McCall – Saracens
  • Dai Young – Wasps

Previous winners:

2014-15 – Mike Ford (Bath Rugby)
2013-14 – Mark McCall (Saracens)
2012-13 – Mark McCall (Saracens)
2011-12 – Rob Baxter (Exeter Chiefs)
2010-11 – Jim Mallinder (Northampton Saints)

On a night when many young players took centre stage, Saracens saw their outstanding lock Maro Itoje named the Land Rover Discovery of the Season, for the best Under-23 player in Aviva Premiership Rugby.

Itoje has enjoyed an incredible season that has seen the Saracens Academy graduate win an RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam, the European Rugby Champions Cup and win every one of the 20 matches he has played in!

"It is not by luck or chance that Maro is performing consistently well and the recipient of so much praise and so many accolades," said Mike Hynard, Premiership Rugby’s Head of Academies and Development.

"Maro is hard-working and a real competitor – that coupled with his desire to learn and improve drives him on.

"Maro is an impressive athlete – strong and powerful with speed and stamina. He has the stature and ability to play anywhere in the back five of the scrum. He really is a physical specimen, but what makes him special is that he is able to transfer his physical qualities and make a huge impact in games.

"It is clear that Maro is already changing the expectations of a lock forward and who knows what standards he will go on to set in the future. He has a capacity to grow as a rugby player, which in itself is quite frightening, but also unbelievably exciting for both Aviva Premiership Rugby and England."

The 2015-16 season has been a stellar campaign for young players in Aviva Premiership Rugby with Itoje heading the list of six players, all of whom have made a big impact this season.
 
The Land Rover Discovery of the Season shortlist:

  • Jack Clifford – Harlequins
  • Paul Hill – Northampton Saints
  • Maro Itoje – Saracens
  • Sam James – Sale Sharks
  • Harry Mallinder – Northampton Saints
  • Harry Thacker – Leicester Tigers

Previous winners:

2014-15 – Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
2013-14 – Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
2012-13 – Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
2011-12 – Owen Farrell (Saracens)
2010-11 – Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)

The Land Rover Discovery of the Season award is designed to recognise the most impressive young players in the Aviva Premiership Rugby each season and reward them for their outstanding contribution to the competition. They had to be Under-23 on 16 October 2015 and have played at least five Aviva Premiership Rugby matches this season.

To celebrate the player's achievement, they will have the opportunity to become a Land Rover ambassador, for the 2016-17 season.

The first award of the night at the Park Lane Hilton went to John O’Donnell from Sale Sharks who was named Aviva Community Player of the Season, an honour which celebrates players’ involvement in their club’s community foundations and their work with a variety of other charities.

O'Donnell started volunteering at Wigan Youth Zone when he first signed with Sale Sharks in July 2014, and has been supporting them ever since to help engage children from deprived backgrounds in a wide range of activities, to develop them as individuals, but to also give them a strong network of support.

Aviva Community Player of the Season shortlist:

  • Sam Betty – Worcester Warriors
  • Will Fraser – Saracens
  • John O’Donnell – Sale Sharks
  • Bobby Vickers – Newcastle Falcons

Debbie Bullock, Aviva’s Community Investment Manager, was one of the judges. She said: "One of the key things about John’s work was that it was a long-term commitment, three days a week over an extended period of time.

"That’s an awful lot of time over and above his regular training commitments and he was very impassioned about the work because it is in his home area.

"It was clear that he wanted to give something back to the community that he grew up in and he is definitely doing that, working with a really challenging group of people who benefited massively from what he was doing."

Following O’Donnell on to the stage at the Park Lane Hilton was Elliot Frewen, the Newport Gwent Dragons player who was named Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Player of the Series.

Frewen was outstanding last summer as the Dragons swept to their first Singha 7s title, beating Wasps in a compelling final at the Twickenham Stoop.

Frewen may have shown a number of speedy backs a clean pair of heels in the 7s but he wasn’t likely to come up against any of the players in our next award, the Green Flag Forward of the Season.
 
A panel of judges headed by Rugby World Cup winner Martin Corry decided to keep the award at the Ricoh Arena, so following Wasps back row Nathan Hughes last year, this time around they awarded the gong to one of the game’s most-capped players, George Smith.

Only forwards who played six or more matches in the Aviva Premiership Rugby season were eligible and the following shortlist was created of six players, representing four different clubs.

Green Flag Forward of the Season shortlist:

  • Teimana Harrison – Northampton Saints
  • Maro Itoje – Saracens
  • George Kruis – Saracens
  • Nili Latu – Newcastle Falcons
  • George Smith – Wasps
  • Billy Vunipola – Saracens

Corry said: "There’s a danger that we just buy foreign players that don’t really add an awful lot, but with Smith at Wasps he looks from the outside like he has changed the culture of how they are going to play.

"Listening to the Wasps players talk, he gives them a new way of looking at the game, he builds new skills.

"His impact on English rugby has been huge. He has come in and set the standard, everyone can see it and he is open with how you do it and he is teaching young guys the tricks of the trade.

"That is what is great about him. Yes he is a natural footballer, the way he is stepping up in ball-playing positions and what he is offering in attack, but his fundamental ability is in and around the breakdown, where he has been phenomenal."
 
Try-scoring isn’t normally the domain of Smith and his forward colleagues but this year it was two of the pack who scooped our awards for tries scored.

First up on stage in the try-scoring categories was Exeter Chiefs No.8 Thomas Waldrom who picked up his second Trivento Top Try Scorer award.

Last season he was clear of the opposition but this time it was a much tighter affair. His total of 13 tries was just one ahead of Wasps’ Christian Wade and Bath Rugby’s Semesa Rokoduguni.

Last season Waldrom became the first forward to top the try scoring charts since Neil Back in 1998-99.

Keeping the try-scoring awards amongst the forwards it was Harry Thacker’s stunning touchdown for Leicester Tigers against Northampton Saints that was named the Citizen Try of the Season

In a season that has seen an impressive 616 tries – one of the highest tallies ever – Thacker's stunning score from inside his own half emerged as the winner.

Citizen Try of the Season shortlist:

  • Peter Betham, Leicester Tigers (v Gloucester Rugby in Round 19)
  • Ross Chisholm, Harlequins (v Gloucester Rugby in Round 7)
  • Sam James, Sale Sharks (v Northampton Saints in Round 3)
  • George Pisi, Northampton Saints (v Gloucester Rugby in Round 22)
  • Harry Thacker, Leicester Tigers (v Northampton Saints in Round 20)
  • Cooper Vuna, Worcester Warriors (v Saracens in Round 22)

Joining Waldrom, his teammate Gareth Steenson managed to make it an Exeter Chiefs double as he lifted the Gilbert Golden Boot Award.

Gilbert Golden Boot Top Three:

Gareth Steenson (Exeter Chiefs) – 219 points
Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks) – 167
Stephen Myler (Northampton Saints) – 162

One of the most-eagerly awaited Awards was handed out by former England internationals Lawrence Dallaglio and Austin Healey, the BT Sport Aviva Premiership Rugby Dream Team.

The full team:

15. Alex Goode – Saracens
14. Jack Nowell – Exeter Chiefs
13. Elliot Daly – Wasps
12. Charles Piutau – Wasps
11. Telusa Veainu – Leicester Tigers
10. Gareth Steenson – Exeter Chiefs
9. Francois Hougaard – Worcester Warriors
1. Mako Vunipola – Saracens
2. Mike Haywood – Northampton Saints
3. Vadim Cobîla? – Sale Sharks
4. Maro Itoje – Saracens
5. George Kruis – Saracens
6. Teimana Harrison – Northampton Saints
7. George Smith – Wasps
8. Billy Vunipola – Saracens

The Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards weren’t all about the men’s game as for the first time the Women’s Premiership was placed centre stage at the Hilton.

Powerful back-rower Harriet Millar-Mills was named Women’s Premiership Players’ Player of the Season after votes were collected from Women’s Premiership players from across the country.

The full shortlist was:

  • Poppy Cleall (Saracens)
  • Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield)
  • Rachel Lund (Worcester)

The award, won last year by Tamara Taylor was presented by women’s rugby legend Maggie Alphonsi.

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