As the finals weekend of the European club rugby season fast approaches, ERC have named a shortlist of five players who are in contention for the northern hemisphere’s most prestigious individual accolade – the ERC European Player of the Year for 2012.
The two Irish provinces who contest Saturday’s Heineken Cup final at Twickenham, Leinster and Ulster, have players nominated for the honour.
Leinster duo Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney and Ulster aces Stephen Ferris and Ruan Pienaar are all in contention, while the list is completed by Toulon’s talisman Jonny Wilkinson who will feature in Friday’s Amlin Challenge Cup final against Biarrtz Olypimque at the Twickenham Stoop.
The ERC judging panel which drew up the shortlist comprises Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports), Raphael Ibanez (2011/12 Heineken Cup Ambassador), Stephen Jones (Sunday Times), Emmanuel Massicard (Midi Olympique) and Gerry Thornley (Irish Times).
The search for this season’s ERC European Player of the Year began in earnest following the pool campaigns in both tournaments and the panel was presented with an initial longlist of 15 contenders – which included Ferris, Pienaar and Sexton – as a starting point for the selection process.
Once the knockout stages got underway, the panel was able to consider players who had made major individual contributions in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, and following stand-out performances for their respective sides, Kearney and Wilkinson in particular, emerged as candidates.
Taking into account form over the pool and knockout stages of both tournaments, the panel then decided on its shortlist of five players, one of whom will be announced next week as the ERC European Player of the Year for 2012.
In addition to the decision of the panel, the 44 teams in ERC’s two tournaments will also have the opportunity to vote along with supporters who can have their say via Twitter by sending their vote to @ercrugby using #ERCPlayer2012 and one of the following #tags #voteFerris, #voteKearney, #votePienaar, #voteSexton or #voteWilkinson.
In 2010, ERC launched the highly acclaimed ERC15 Awards, recognising the efforts of a number of outstanding contributors to the first 15 years of European club rugby competition.
Two-time Heineken Cup winner Ronan O’Gara from Munster was the inaugural recipient of the ERC European Player award, as the best player over the first 15 years of the two tournaments.
ERC15 was the catalyst for ERC choosing to recognise individual excellence across both of the European club rugby tournaments annually and in the 2010/11 season, the ERC European Player of the Year award was established with the inaugural recipient being Leinster’s Sean O’Brien.
2012 ERC EUROPEAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR SHORTLIST –
(Back rower, Ulster)
(Scrum half, Ulster)
FORM GUIDE –
• Stephen Ferris has been in outstanding form for Ulster in their thrilling run to a first Heineken Cup final in 13 years
• Rob Kearney pushed himself into contention with two magnificent displays for Leinster in the knockout wins over Cardiff Blues and Clermont Auvergne.
The full-back scored two tries against the Cardiff Blues at the Aviva Stadium before dropping a superb goal and creating a try for Cian Healy against Clermont Auvergne in Bordeaux.
• Ruan Pienaar of Ulster has totalled 71 points in the pool and knockout stages to date in a series of incredibly polished performances
• Jonathan Sexton has been hugely impressive for Leinster with a personal haul of 88 points in this season’s Heineken Cup to date
• Jonny Wilkinson has been a key figure in Toulon’s powerful drive to a second Amlin Challenge Cup final with 17 points in the quarter-final success over last season’s champions, Harlequins, which was followed up by a match-winning haul of 27 points from seven penalties and two drop goals in the semi-final victory over Stade Francais