PREMIERSHIP RUGBY can confirm that Wasps’ flanker Jack Willis and Saracens’ outside-half Tom Whiteley are the final two players to make the shortlist for the Anglo-Welsh Cup Breakthrough Player Award.
Both young men made a big impact in the pool rounds of the competition, judged by the statisticians at OPTA. They join Northampton Saints’ back Harry Mallinder, Gloucester Rugby prop Cameron Orr, Harlequins back-rower James Chisholm, Exeter Chiefs’ Stu Townsend, Bath Rugby’s Zach Mercer, Josh Adams from Worcester Warriors, Sam Simmonds from Exeter Chiefs and Tom Howe from Wasps, who were the first eight players placed on the shortlist after the first four rounds of action.
The Breakthrough Player Award is open to the best Under-23 players in the Anglo-Welsh Cup with shortlisted players being named after each round. A public vote – which opens tomorrow – will decide the winner ahead of the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final, which is on Sunday 19 March at the Twickenham Stoop.
This year the competition is being supported by Citizen Watch UK who will provide the overall winner with the latest Citizen Skyhawk A-T watch and Gilbert who will supply £1,000 worth of kit to a grassroots club of the winner’s choice.
Wasps have plenty of top back rowers at their disposal and judging from this year’s Anglo-Welsh Cup they may have unearthed another great talent as Willis is nominated as one of two Breakthrough wildcards. Willis has made 45 carries in this season’s competition, a tally that only three players can better, making three clean breaks, beating four defenders and scoring a try in the process. His defence has been close to flawless; of 40 attempted tackles he missed just one and also won six turnovers, the third most of any player.
Clean Breaks: 3
Defenders Beaten: 4
Tackle %: 98
Saracens’ 21-year-old half back Whiteley has had a strong Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign so far and currently sits top of the point scorers list thanks to three tries, 10 conversions and two penalty goals. In fact, just two players have managed to score more tries than Whiteley in the competition this season. With ball in hand he’s made 18 carries, beating eight defenders and making three clean breaks as well as providing a try assist. He has been busy in defence too – no back can better his tally of 38 tackles made this season, showing that the young half back deserves his place as one of this year’s Breakthrough wildcards.
Defenders beaten: 8
Clean Breaks: 3
Launched in 2012, the Breakthrough Player Award celebrates and recognises those young players who have stood out in the tournament with previous winners Jack Nowell, Jonny May, Tom Collins and Ollie Devoto.
Using OPTA match statistics, a forward and back from each round, along with two players with outstanding overall competition statistics will form a shortlist, which will be submitted to a fan vote on www.new-heroes.com. The winner will be announced prior to the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final.
Zach Mercer – Bath Rugby
Josh Adams – Worcester Warriors
Sam Simmonds – Exeter Chiefs
Tom Howe – Wasps
James Chisholm – Harlequins
Stu Townsend – Exeter Chiefs
Harry Mallinder – Northampton Saints
Cameron Orr – Gloucester Rugby
Jack Willis – Wasps
Tom Whiteley – Saracens