Following last weekend’s dramatic pool stages conclusion of the European Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup, the longlist for the EPCR European Player of the Year 2015 award has been announced.
Selected by a distinguished panel of rugby experts including European Cup winner Alan Quinlan and Challenge Cup winner, Dimitri Yachvili, the longlist for the one of the most prized individual accolades in the world game includes 15 players who have performed outstandingly in the 2014/15 season to date.
Last season’s winner, Steffon Armitage of Toulon, is nominated once again, along with Northampton Saints’ George North and Fritz Lee of Clermont Auvergne who made the 2014 longlist. Saracens’ prolific try scorer, Chris Ashton, who made last season’s five-man shortlist, is also included on this occasion.
Clermont, who clash with Saints in the Champions Cup quarter-finals in April, have four players in the list, while top seeds for the knockout stages, Racing Metro 92, have three nominations. Leinster, Saracens and Toulon have two apiece with one each for Bath Rugby and Northampton.
The panel of judges will then have the option to consider additional players who make major contributions during the knockout stages of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup before announcing a five-man shortlist following the semi-finals with the overall winner named directly after EPCR’s finals in London in early May.
In addition to the decision of the judges, the 40 teams in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup will have the opportunity to vote for contenders in the eventual shortlist while supporters can also have their say on Twitter using #EPCRPlayer2015, and on the tournament Facebook pages.
EPCR EUROPEAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR 2015 LONGLIST:
Nick Abendanon (Clermont Auvergne)
Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
Chris Ashton (Saracens)
Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)
Juan Imhoff (Racing Metro 92)
Jonathan Joseph (Bath)
Fritz Lee (Clermont Auvergne)
Camille Lopez (Clermont Auvergne)
Ian Madigan (Leinster)
George North (Northampton Saints)
Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro 92)
Aurélien Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne)
Nicolas Sanchez (Toulon)
Dimitri Szarzewski (Racing Metro 92)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Nick Abendanon – rejuvenated following his move to France. Some brilliant counter-attacking during the pool stage and top of the metres made stats with 571.
Steffon Armitage – With the luxury of a gargantuan pack around him, Europe’s turnover king has once again ruled the pool stages. He heads the turnovers stats on 15 and has scored four tries into the bargain.
Chris Ashton – Last season’s top try scorer in Europe, Ashton has once again been in razor sharp form crossing four times in Saracens’ push to the quarter-finals.
Jamie Heaslip – The ultimate leader by example. The Leinster captain made an impressive 83 carries in his six pool games and only the evergreen Nick Easter of Harlequins made more.
Juan Imhoff – The electric Argentine winger was Racing’s key strike runner in their impressive pool performance, scoring five tries in five outings for the number 1 seeds.
Jonathan Joseph – Caught the eye in a sparkling Bath backs division and was simply magnificent in the key away victory over Toulouse in round 5.
Fritz Lee – Every side needs a go forward merchant and number 8 Lee consistently makes the hard yards for Clermont. Was at the heart of the French club’s defining round 3 victory over Munster at Thomond Park.
Camille Lopez – If Clermont go all the way this season, Lopez will have made the difference. Intelligent game management and a solid place kicker, unquestionably Europe’s leading out-half during the pool stages.
Ian Madigan – Top scorer in the Champions Cup to date with 80 points, Madigan may not yet be the finished article, but some of his attacking play this season has been sensational.
George North – The prototype modern back-three player. A threat from just about anywhere on the pitch and top of defenders beaten stats with 24 from five games. Also a mere seven tries scored, including four against the Ospreys in round 2.
Jamie Roberts – Back to his direct, powerful best in the latter part of the pool stages and was outstanding for Racing in the round 6 demolition of Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens.
Aurélien Rougerie – 35 later this year, he remains a key influence for Clermont. Not quite as quick as before, but without him, the French contenders won’t have the same inspiration.
Nicolas Sanchez – Clever and incisive, he has filled a problem position for the reigning champions since the retirement of Jonny Wilkinson.
Dimitri Szarzewski – The very soul of Racing’s ambition. Aggressive, direct and as dynamic as ever with ball in hand and rowed in with a hat-trick of tries against Benetton Treviso in round 5.
Billy Vunipola – Back to his barnstorming best for Saracens following a dip in form. Dominant in the comprehensive round 5 victory over Munster.
Judging Panel: Emmanuel Massicard (Editor, Midi Olympique), Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports/The Sunday Times), Alan Quinlan (Sky Sports/The Irish Times), Mick Cleary (Rugby Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph), Dimitri Yachvili (beIN Sports).
Previous Winners: Ronan O’Gara (Munster – best player of first 15 years of European club rugby tournaments); Sean O’Brien (Leinster) 2011; Rob Kearney (Leinster) 2012; Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon) 2013; Steffon Armitage (Toulon) 2014.