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The best players in the Premiership – the experts view

Rowan Jenkins

Aberavon prop Rowan Jenkins is the only player to have been selected by all four of our experts (Pic: Riley Sports Photography)

The Indigo Group Premiership may have been cut short by the coronavirus crisis, but there was still plenty of good rugby throughout the competition to reflect back on.

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So, we asked four of the regular watchers of the top league in the Welsh club system to give us their views on the best players, coaches and referees from the 2019/20 campaign.

Between them they watched dozens of games throughout the truncated season. Phil Steele worked for BBC Wales’ flagship rugby show, Scrum V, working as the touchline reporter at Friday night live matches and doing radio commentary on Saturdays.

Howard Evans and Huw Thomas have probably watched more Premiership rugby than anyone else in the game, reporting from Aberavon and Llandovery respectively. They saw every club in the flesh during the season, while Rob Cole reported on matches for the Rugby Paper and Wales on Sunday and the Western Mail over the six month season.

What did they make of it all? To a man, they all believed Cardiff were just about going to hold onto their lead and win their first league title since 2009, but pointed to the fact it was one of the most competitive leagues for many years.

The Experts view:

Premiership XV

Howard Evans

BEST BACK: Dale Stuckey (Pontypridd)
Blink and you miss him! Top try scorer in the Premiership and a player capable of conjuring something out nothing. Should surely have been given the chance to make it at regional level.

BEST FORWARD: Haydn Pugh (Carmarthen Quins)
A powerhouse figure in the most feared pack in the Premiership. One of his best seasons both as a player and a leader.

BEST COACH: Steve Law (Cardiff)
Nobody knows the Premiership better than Steve Law and he certainly Cardiff to play with real pride and passion. Didn’t have to rely on the Blues too much as he assembled a great squad of players he knew from other clubs.

BEST REF: Gwyn Morris (Cardiff)
Inspires confidence in the players and always gets them to raise their game. Fit as a fiddle and scrupulously fair. Not much gets past him and the games he controls tend to be the best.

BEST GAME: Aberavon 29 – 34 Carmarthen Quins, Talbot Athletic Ground
Just a pleasure to be at the game and see both sides score four tries each. It was end to end stuff, but it proved what a well-coached side the Quins are that they just managed to come out on top.

BEST TRY: James Garland (Aberavon v Llanelli, Stradey Park)
got the ball near hjalf-way, cut back, got lost and somehow emerged, with an audacious dummy through a crowd of players before sprinting 40 metres to the posts. Beat five players en route.

Phil Steele

BEST BACK: Aled Thomas (Aberavon)
Superb general for the Wizards – cool, calm and with almost flawless tactical nous.  His metronomic goal kicking also won several games that Aberavon might well have lost. THE player of the season for me.

BEST FORWARD: Haydyn Pugh (Carmarthen Quins)
Terrific all-action second row whose leadership played a huge part in Quins’ impressive season – best exemplified in a magnificent 29-7 demolition of Cardiff despite playing over an hour with only 14 men.

BEST COACH: Steve Law (Cardiff)
Yes, he had a talented squad to work with, but his passion and enthusiasm both for his job, and the league itself, always shone through. At times a delightfully “Old Skool” tough task master, as demonstrated by his rant to his players after defeat by Carmarthen Quins. Always looked to play a high-tempo brand of rugby, which I think would have won them the title had the season not been curtailed.

BEST REF: Adam Jones (Brecon)
Gently authoritative without being overbearing or too zealous with the whistle, and an excellent communicator with the players who clearly enjoy and respect his approach.

BEST GAME: Pontypridd 26-25 Cardiff, Sardis Road
A game which showcased the best of the Premiership. Two old rivals going at it hammer and tongs in front of a big Festive crowd. The lead changed hands several times and there was almost a length of the field try by Terri Gee to win it at the death for Cardiff, only for Ponty’s Alex Webber to save the day with a last ditch tackle. Oh, and a great night in the clubhouse after too!

BEST TRY: Chris Williams (Bridgend v Newport, Brewery Field)
Not just a delightful try featuring some lovely individual skill and team support play, but so important in the context of a terrific  match in which Bridgend rallied from 28-3 down to lead against Newport – only to be pipped by a final penalty with the last kick!

Huw S Thomas

BEST BACK: Gareth Thompson (Cardiff)
Hugely influential director of operations at Cardiff and a great goalkicker as well.

BEST FORWARD: Jack Jones (Llandovery)
A great engine room man, grandfather Brian {Thomas} would have approved.

BEST COACH: Steve Law (Cardiff)
Always makes his demands clear and ensures they are followed.

BEST REF: Adam Jones (Brecon)
Clear, relaxed and consistent.

BEST GAME: Merthyr 33 – 31 Llandovery
High scoring excitement and controversy with Matthew Jarvis hitting the winning penalty with the final kick of the game to steal victory from the Drovers.

BEST TRY: Terri Gee (Cardiff v Llandovery)
Showed searing pace from half-way to decide the game.

Rob Cole

Aled Thomas

Aberavon fly half Aled Thomas goes for the tryline (Pic: Riley Sports Photography)

BEST BACK: Aled Thomas (Aberavon)
A delight to watch all season, he oozes skill, confidence and class. Made a major impact at Aberavon and looks set for a few more seasons yet.

BEST FORWARD: James Ratti (Cardiff)
Picked up off the scrap-heap at the Ospreys and turned into a regional player again at the Blues thanks to his dedication to the cause at Cardiff. Fine example of what the Premiership should be all about.

BEST COACH: Emyr Phillips (Carmarthen Quins)
Would have been a great shoot-out between his Quins side and Steve Law’s Cardiff team in the Cup semi-final. Just edges law for the way he turned his pack into the most feared unit in the Premiership.

BEST REF: Gwyn Morris (Cardiff)
Always gets the best out of the two teams and applies the laws consistently, clearly and fairly.

BEST GAME: RGC 23 – 31 Ebbw Vale, Parc Eirias
Staggering away performance from the Steelmen, with Dan Haymond contributing 16 points, as they secured their first win on the road and overcame an eight point deficit to do so.

BEST TRY: Nathan Edwards (Bridgend v Pontypridd, Brewery Field)
Twinkle toes from Dewi Cross in his own half to make the break and beat four players. Then superb support by Edwards to race over from the 22.

 

FOR THE RECORD . . .

The Welsh Premiership Podcast, run by the Sports Journalism students at University of South Wales, also asked fans to name their Best Premiership XV and this is what they came up with:
15 Edd Howley (Cardiff)
14 Dewi Cross (Bridgend)
13 Callum Carson (Swansea)
12 Rhodri Jones (Llandovery)
11 Elliot Frewen (Newport)
10 Aled Thomas (Aberavon)
9 Lee Rees (Llandovery)
1 Rowan Jenkins (Aberavon)
2 Gareth Harvey (Bridgend)
3 Ben Leung (Carmarthen Quins)
4 Ashley Sweet (Ebbw Vale)
5 Haydn Pugh (Carmarthen Quins)
6 Joe Powell (Llandovery)
7 Callum Bowden (Swansea)
8 Richard Brooks (Llandovery)

 

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