Leeicester Tigers legend Martin Corry this week joined members of rugby media to select the shortlist for the Green Flag Forward of the Season – and the selection process was extremely fierce following glittering seasons for a host of Aviva Premiership Rugby players.
Corry headed a judging panel consisting of Emma Thurston from Out On The Full, Andrew McKenna of TalkSport and Neale Harvey of the Rugby Paper to run the rule over Aviva Premiership Rugby’s most consistent performers. The panel was chaired by Premiership Rugby’s Communications Director Paul Morgan.
The final list was whittled down to just six with the shortlist of:
- Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints)
- Maro Itoje (Saracens)
- George Kruis (Saracens)
- Nili Latu (Newcastle)
- George Smith (Wasps)
- Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Corry admitted selecting the nominees was as tough around the judging table as the players’ performances have been on the field for their clubs in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
"To make this list is a great achievement," said Leicester Tigers legend Corry. "It was such a tough selection.
"We have spoken about so many talented and impressive guys. If you look at the impact and durability they have had to last the Aviva Premiership Rugby season, their ability to perform week-in-week-out and also the capabilities to take it even further is amazing."
The winner will rub shoulders with the biggest names in English rugby at the glittering sold out Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards ceremony at the London Hilton, Park Lane presented by BT Sport's Craig Doyle.
Along with the winner of the Green Flag Forward of the Season – on 18 May – the winners of the following Awards will also be announced:
- Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Season
- Aviva Community Player of the Season
- BT Sport Dream Team
- Citizen Try of the Season
- Gilbert Golden Boot
- Women's Premiership Players’ Player of the Year
- Guinness Director of Rugby of the Season
- Land Rover Discovery of the Season
- Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Player of the Series
- Trivento Top Try Scorer of the Season
Corry explained why each had been nominated, and starting with the ball carrying ability of England and Saracens’ No.8 Vunipola, he said: "What I really like about Billy Vunipola is his consistency wasn’t there especially in the big games, but this time he has really stepped up and he is playing as well in the big games.
"You look at his impact for England; he was phenomenal, especially in the early rounds of the Grand Slam.
"He is without doubt a phenomenal ball-carrier and the reason he is always going to be in the team is because of his ball-carrying and his off-loading game, which is developing."
Another to establish himself for England this season as Eddie Jones’ men lifted the Grand Slam is Vunipola’s Saracens’ team-mate Kruis and Corry is convinced he’s now his country’s premier second row.
"At the start of the season when you looked at who should be the England second-row pairing, he was perhaps third out of the three options alongside Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes coming into the Six Nations," said Corry.
"His early season form for Saracens made you think he was not just third choice, he is actually now number one.
"You always look at a second row’s set-piece, his has really kicked on and he has become a dominant force there.
"His work-rate really sets him apart as does his ball-playing, his ball-carrying, but his general doggedness, which are key attributes you want from a second-row. He has had a phenomenal season.
"We’re looking at second-rows as a real position of strength now; Kruis has massively put his hand up and is leading the way."
The third Saracens player on the shortlist is second row Maro Itoje. Corry said: "Whenever there is something positive, he is there right at the start of the performance. Whether it is the first phase, or it is with the rucks and mauls, he is there hitting them and his work-rate.
"His durability, he is constant it seems like he has played every single second for Saracens because he just stays there and doesn’t get injured. He is always there, a bit like Kruis. His standards stay at such a high level.
“The second-half against Wasps and how he was in the internationals. That is where you see real quality players, when they perform at a high level and then they can raise their game depending on the quality of the opposition."
Veteran flanker Smith has caught Corry’s eye since moving to Aviva Premiership Rugby with Wasps last summer – his scavenging at the breakdown has allowed Dai Young’s creative backline to flourish.
"There’s a danger that we just buy foreign players that don’t really add an awful lot, it is just that they are available but with Smith at Wasps, he looks from the outside like he has changed the culture of how they are going to play" said Corry.
"Listen to the Wasps players talk, he gives them a new way of looking at the game, he builds new skills.
"He has gone in and helped out with Eddie Jones and England because of the standards he sets himself and because of the way he has come in and played. His impact on English rugby has been huge."
Corry is tipping Harrison for England honours in 2016 after the Saints back-rower has produced a series of barnstorming performances in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season.
His nomination may never have materialised though but for a chance meeting with England skipper Dylan Hartley in New Zealand. When Hartley returned to his old school in New Zealand in 2011, he identified Harrison as a talented prospect, and was promptly invited over to join Northampton by boss Jim Mallinder – the 23-year-old has not looked back since.
"I think the impact of Harrison on Northampton – they have not had a great season – but you have to look for guys who have really put their hand up and stepped up to the mark and I think he has been immense just in how he has tried to drive Northampton forward with his all-encompassing style," said Corry.
"His ball carrying in particular has been immense for them and so often when you look at who are the stars of the season, you just look at the best side, but sometimes it is the mark of a man when teams are struggling, to really stand out and Harrison has done that and big things await him."
Corry also singled out Latu for his performances for Newcastle this season, highlighting how impressive it is to make the short-list after playing in a side fighting in the bottom half of the table.
"When you’re looking at key forwards and why Newcastle are staying up, you can point a big finger at Latu," said Corry.
"I think he has been just immense and at times he has been carrying the side, and when you look at the big games they’ve won and the reason why they’ve stayed up – he’s been the difference between the two sides.
"I think it is a great credit to him that he is able to shine, but with what Dean (Richards) and John Wells are doing up in Newcastle, to bring in people like that as they’re looking to go forward they are going to say – we’ve got someone to build a future round."
All the winners will be announced first on Twitter via the @premrugby account on the evening of 18 May. Use hashtag #AvivaPremAwards to join the conversation or follow @GreenFlagUK #rugbytribe
Past Winners of Green Flag Forward of the Season
2014 – Nick Easter (Harlequins)
2015 – Nathan Hughes (Wasps)