All manner of stars graced the Aviva Premiership Rugby awards night but many unsung heroes also received richly-deserved nominations for their efforts.
The first award of the night, the Aviva Community Player of the Season, went to Sale Sharks winger John O’Donnell for going above and beyond in his volunteering efforts with Wigan Youth Zone.
Ever since joining Sale in 2014, O’Donnell has been helping engage children from deprived backgrounds in a wide range of activities, to develop them as individuals, and also give them a strong network of support.
Former winners of the award include Saracens’ Jamie George, Dom Waldouck at Northampton Saints, Dean Schofield from Worcester Warriors and Bob Casey of London Irish, who won the inaugural award in 2012.
And O’Donnell was quick to point out that it has taken a team effort to build strong Premiership Rugby roots in a traditionally rugby league town.
“It’s been brilliant to be involved, and because rugby union is a different game it was good to take it to Wigan and the young people really bought into it,” said O’Donnell, who pipped Will Fraser (Saracens), Sam Betty (Worcester Warriors) and Bobby Vickers (Newcastle Falcons) to the award.
“To be able to bring Premiership Rugby to them and get Steve Diamond and Ugo Monye down to see them was great. They were both fully supportive of what we were trying to do.”
Hilton Park Lane also witnessed the women’s game honoured at the Premiership Rugby awards night for the very first time, with back-rower Harriet Millar-Mills named Women’s Premiership Players' Player of the Season.
Millar-Mills is one of England’s most valuable players – the 25-year-old already has 31 caps to her name – and beat stiff competition in Rachel Lund of Worcester and Saracens’ Poppy Cleall to the prize.
Now she has been rewarded by her peers for her work in helping Lichfield become a force in the Women’s Premiership, and Millar-Mills is confident there are more big things to come for club and country.
“I’m really thankful for the award and it’s such a proud achievement, especially having been nominated by all the players,” she said. “It’s recognition from your peers.
“We really want to push on, especially at Lichfield to try and break into those top two positions.
“It’s such a competitive league now so our aim is to keep moving forward, and then on a personal level play the best rugby I can ahead of the World Cup next year.”
The shortened code of the game is under the spotlight more than ever before with the Olympic Games coming up, and the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s is only growing in popularity.
Last year saw a Welsh region win the trophy for the very first time and Newport Gwent Dragons’ star man, Elliot Frewen, scooped up an award on Wednesday for being player of the series.
Frewen and co beat a star-studded Wasps side including Christian Wade and Dan Robson in the Stoop final 17-14.
“It feels amazing, I didn’t expect to be here in the first place let alone win it,” said Frewen. Being with the likes of these boys here on the night, it’s a great honour.
“I haven’t had much of a chance from a regional perspective but when I do, I always try and make the most of it. I went out all guns blazing last year and thankfully I delivered, so I’m very happy.
“It was a tremendous game to finish on (against Wasps) and if you want to be the best you’ve got to play the best.”