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Premiership Rugby

Zurich Premiership XV – November

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

15 Thomas Castaignède (Saracens)A selection of potential over proven performances. The French international returned after a six week injury break with a Man of the match performance against Rotherham. He scored two tries – the first coming after just 43 seconds of play. The old panache also came flooding back as he set up two more tries, including a deft chip-kick that found his flying compatriot Denis Cech on the charge and on the scoresheet.

14 Marcel Garvey (Gloucester)Gloucester made hard work of November, winning just one of their games. Unsurprisingly, it was left to the dancing feet of Garvey to unlock the Northampton Saints defence to show the way to the win. His trademark bursts of speed – peppered with jarring steps inside – have become a commonplace sight at Kingsholm.

13 Jamie Noon (Newcastle Falcons)The young England centre has continued to impress and has played a pivotal part in his team's performances this November, which included a hammering of Rotherham and a tense victory over third-place London Irish. His running lines continue to improve and will only get better with the return of the club's master conductor Jonny Wilkinson.

12 Braam van Straaten (Sale Sharks)The former Springbok has a wise head and has galvanised the Sharks' back play, bringing structure to their attacks and solidity to their defence. Van Straaten's metronomic kicking is crucial to Sale's cause.

11 Bruce Reihana (Northampton)The former All Black has been immense in both attack and defence and added a nice brace of tries against the Leeds Tykes. In the absence of the likes of Matt Dawson and Paul Grayson his experience had been invaluable to Saints' progress.

10 Olly Barkley (Bath)The fact that Bath went through November as the only unbeaten team of the Zurich Premiership has a lot to do with his man's kicking boot and his tactical awareness. The youngster assumed the mantle of decision-maker in the absence of his England colleagues and has not disappointed, navigating his side through some tense encounters – most notably the one-point victory over arch-rivals Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. Barkley sneaks in past Northampton Saints' Shane Drahm, who has also been outstanding.

9 Rob Howley (London Wasps)Age cannot weary the former Wales and Lions legend who has been instrumental in his club rise to second place. Some feared the loss of the talismanic Lawrence Dallaglio would take the sting out of Wasps, but Howley has risen to the challenge of captaincy and can still call on the vision and dexterity that made him the world's best scrum-world. He isn't far off that spot now.

8 Chris Jones (Sale Sharks)The young lock-cum-back rower has continued to improve and is sure to figure in the white shirt of England in the build up to RWC 2007. He is gifted with dainty hands and power in the contact, and has the intelligence to use both assets to their full advantage.

7 Josh Kronfeld (Leicester Tigers)The former All Black has now left these shores but his influence will linger for years. He wins selection not for his play (which, needless to say, was always of the highest quality) but for the way he lead the young players at Welford Road. World rugby can have few better tutors and Kronfeld nurtured the Tigers' cubs in the absence of Leicester's international contingent.

6 Richard Hill (Saracens)Yes, he played one only game – and his inclusion is a tough call on the other Premiership flankers who have struggled through the dark November days, but who would argue? His return to the England side in Australia rescued the team's RWC dreams, and his appearance for Saracens against Rotherham arrested Sarries' alarming slide to the nether regions of the league. A try and a bandaged head showed just the sort of contribution Hill makes to a game. Liz, if you must pin medals to players – pin one to this man!

5 Rob Fidler (Bath)The former Gloucester man was brought to Bath to add a bit of backbone to the side and that is exactly what he has done. Fidler represents one half of the strongest engine room on display at the moment. He will not be regretting his move south, particularly after having seen off his former club 20-14 in front of the Shed.

4 Steve Borthwick (Bath)His contribution to the Bath cause was recognised when the England man won the Zurich Premiership Player of the Month Award along with team-mate Olly Barkley. The outstanding line-out jumper on show in England at present, and a tireless presence around the field.

3 Craig Dowd (London Wasps)London Wasps have slowly and silently crept up the leaderboard and now sit in second position. Dowd's role within the team is seemingly unassuming – working hard in a silent and successful way. The former All Black has forgotten more about the art of scrummaging than the rest of us will ever know, and his experience continues to rub off on those around him.

2 Naka Drotské (London Irish)The former Springbok has brought a lot of experience to the Exiles and had played a key role in their charge up the table. Only a last-minute loss to the Newcastle Falcons spoilt an impeccable November run.

1 David Flatman (Bath)Flatman appears in the Team of the Month for the second time in three months, and with good reason. The Rec new-boy has been the cornerstone of Bath's scrum and a major factor in their meteoritic rise from the ashes of last season. His strong scrummaging skills saw off Gloucester, Wasps and the Tigers twice during the course of the month – not a bad kill ratio at all.

October's Team of the Month: 15 Nick Beal (Northampton Saints), 14 James Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), 13 Graeme Bond (Sale Sharks), 12 Olly Barkley (Bath), 11 Ugo Monye (NEC Harlequins), 10 Shane Drahm (Northampton Saints), 9 Martyn Wood (Bath), 8 Chris Jones (Sale Sharks), 7 James Forrester (Gloucester), 6 Jon Dunbar (Newcastle Falcons), 5 Ryan Strudwick (London Irish), 4 Simon Shaw (London Wasps), 3 Craig Dowd (London Wasps), 2 Jonathan Humphreys (Bath), 1 Mike Shelley (Leeds Tykes).

By Andy Jackson

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