Brits, Burger on Euro shortlist

Wed, 30 Apr 2014 19:05
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Representatives from the European Cup finalists, Toulon and Saracens, are dominating the shortlist of contenders for the European Player of the Year.

Representatives from the European Cup finalists, Toulon and Saracens, are dominating the shortlist of contenders for the European Player of the Year.

The Saracens trio of Chris Ashton, Schalk Brits and Jacques Burger, as well as Toulon's Steffon Armitage and last season's winner, Jonny Wilkinson, all played key roles in their clubs' semifinal victories last weekend.

These five are now vying for what is regarded as the ultimate individual accolade in Northern Hemisphere rugby - a coveted award to be announced shortly after next month's Cardiff Final.

The judging panel selected a longlist of 15 players - which included Armitage and Wilkinson based on performances during the pool stages of the European Cup and the Challenge Cup.

The panel then had the option to consider players who made major contributions during the quarterfinals and semifinals and on that basis, Ashton, Brits and Burger have forced their way into the shortlist - following their outstanding performances in Saracens' knockout stage wins over Ulster and Clermont Auvergne.

In addition to the decision of the panel, the 44 clubs in the European Cup and the Challenge Cup will have the opportunity to vote for the candidates on the shortlist, while fans can also have their say on Twitter using #ERCPlayer2014, as well as on the European Cup and Challenge Cup Facebook pages.

European Player of the Year shortlist:

Jacques Burger
Club: Saracens
Age: 30
Position: Loose forward
European Cup appearances:  12
Challenge Cup appearances: 0
2013/14: Played four; points five (one try)
Country: Namibia (29 tests)

Saracens' one-man wrecking ball has come back from a career-threatening knee injury to terrorise attackers, and in an astonishing 69-minute shift in last weekend's European Cup semi-final, the Namibian ripped Clermont's heart out with 27 tackles.

Jonny Wilkinson
Club: RC Toulon
Age: 34
Position: Out half
European Cup appearances: 29
Challenge Cup appearances: 37
2013/14: Played eight; points 100 (one try, 25 penalties, seven conversions, two drop-goals)
Country: England (91 tests)

Approaching the end of an illustrious career, last season's ERC European Player of the Year winner and RC Toulon captain is still going strong with 100 points so far this season and he's aiming to emulate Martin Johnson (Leicester Tigers) and Leo Cullen (Leinster Rugby) who have lifted the European Cup more than once.

Chris Ashton
Club: Saracens
Age: 27
Position: Wing
European Cup appearances: 33
Challenge Cup appearances: six
2013/14: Played eight; points 55 (11 tries)
Country: England (37 tests)

Back to his electric best, Saracens' key finisher has already set a new tournament record of 11 tries eclipsing Sebastien Carrat of Brive's 17-year-old mark. His outstanding European Cup form could well earn him an England recall.

Steffon Armitage
Club: RC Toulon
Age: 28
Position: Back row
European Cup appearances: 35
Challenge Cup appearances: 13
2013/14: Played eight; points 0
Country: England (five tests)

Has been a revelation yet again this season for the French heavyweights who have set their sights on becoming the third club to retain the European Cup. Virtually immovable over the ball and not surprisingly, leads the tournament stats in turnovers with 17.

Schalk Brits
Club: Saracens
Age: 32
Position: Hooker
European Cup appearances: 26
Challenge Cup appearances: three
2013/14: Played eight; points five (one try)
Country: South Africa (five tests)

Blessed with the distribution skills and pace of a midfield back, the South African has been in scintillating form for the first-time finalists. His searing interventions in loose play have left defenders scratching their heads and he's currently third in the stats list for carries with 83.

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