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The Breakdown | From Feyi-Waboso to Evans: the 2023-24 Premiership team of the season
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The Breakdown | From Feyi-Waboso to Evans: the 2023-24 Premiership team of the season

15. Tyrone Green (Harlequins) Quins have the ability to cut any team apart and the revved-up Green has been brilliant all season. Increasingly confident under the high ball and an expert in picking “killer” lines, the 26-year-old looks a player with top-level instincts, whether it be for his native South Africa or England, for whom he will qualify via residency next year. Elliot Daly and George Furbank have also enjoyed fine campaigns.

14. Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (Exeter) The fastest-rising star in the land, having ripped it up for club and country since swapping life in National One with Taunton Titans for the Premiership last summer. Saturday’s thumping of Quins at Sandy Park summed up the all-court threat he now poses: strong in the tackle, alert to potential opportunities and hungry for the ball. All while studying medicine at Exeter University. As his coach, Rob Baxter, keeps stressing, he still has loads more improvement in him.

13. Henry Slade (Exeter) Plenty of competition for this jersey, with Bath’s Ollie Lawrence and Bristol’s Bernhard Janse van Rensburg among those jostling for it. No one has closed out tight matches this season more reliably, however, than Slade who has rebounded impressively following his omission from England’s World Cup squad. In addition to his assured all-round game he has also graduated as a first-rate goalkicker, having succeeded with his past 24 attempts from all angles.

12. André Esterhuizen (Harlequins) No departing Premiership player will leave a bigger hole than Esterhuizen when he heads back to South Africa at the end of this season. It will not only be Marcus Smith who misses his straight-running colleague: when Quins are at full throttle their Springbok centre is invariably a key cog. André The Giant was a World Cup winner with South Africa last autumn and will be forever remembered fondly in south west London.

11. Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton) Some players are just natural-born finishers and Sleightholme is clearly in that category. The league’s top try-scorer has benefited from Saints’ positive-minded approach and looks to have the ability to follow his father, Jon, into international rugby. Fit, fast and purposeful, he has bagged 14 tries in 12 Premiership appearance this season. Sale’s Aaron Reed and Bath’s Will Muir have also been consistently sharp operators.

10. Finn Russell (Bath) Rugby is not a one-man game and neither are Bath wholly reliant on one individual. The difference in mindset since Russell has arrived at the Rec, however, has been impossible to ignore and the Scotland fly-half has more than justified his hefty salary. It is glaringly obvious how much Bath miss him when he is unavailable; when he plays the likes of Lawrence and Cameron Redpath come alive. Owen Farrell, Marcus and Fin Smith and Exeter’s steadily improving Harvey Skinner also deserve recognition.

9. Ben Spencer (Bath) The nod could easily go to Alex Mitchell, such a buzzing threat for Northampton, but Spencer has played significantly more minutes in the league and, in company with Russell, has transformed Bath’s self-belief. Whether it is his box-kicking, his defence, his support running, his captaincy or, when required, his goal kicking, there is an assurance about Spencer’s game that puts others at ease. Bristol’s Harry Randall has been a consistent menace, too.

1. Beno Obano (Bath) Plenty of worthy contenders for the No 1 jersey, with Quins’ Fin Baxter not far behind Feyi-Waboso as the breakthrough player of the year. Obano, though, has had such wretched luck with injuries that it has been a joy to see him play a full Premiership season and earn a Six Nations recall with England. When their big loosehead goes well, Bath generally do the same.

Bath prop Beno Obano has bounced back from injury hell to play a full season.View image in fullscreen

2. Curtis Langdon (Northampton) It helps to be playing in a table-topping team but Langdon has been at the heart of Saints’ improved fortunes. Having served his apprenticeship at Sale, Worcester and Montpellier he has propelled himself into the England tour conversation with a series of energetic performances and has also scored nine tries in all competitions. Leicester’s estimable Julián Montoya always gives his all and Jack Yeandle remains one of Exeter’s central pillars.

3. Thomas du Toit (Bath) The true gauge of Du Toit’s value will become apparent if he helps propel Bath to a first Premiership final for nine years. Johann van Graan has sought to rotate his pack but Du Toit’s 21-stone presence and strength close to the line – he has contributed 11 tries in all competitions – make him a potentially major end-of-season weapon. It says everything about the 37-year-old Dan Cole’s durability that he still merits a place on the podium.

4. Maro Itoje (Saracens) Two tries against Bristol at the weekend underlined the revitalised contribution Itoje has made to Saracens. Instead of saving the best of himself for England in a busy World Cup season, the 29-year-old has come back strong and motivated and seems determined to ensure that Farrell and the Vunipola brothers enjoy an appropriately successful send off. On his current form he remains a certain Lions tourist next summer.

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5. Charlie Ewels (Bath) Has not been seen in an England jersey since receiving an early red card against Ireland two years ago. His post-injury desire to reinvent himself, however, has been admirable: he has been trying to get quicker and to attack the breakdown more effectively and his hard work has been paying off. There are few better restart catchers and an educational spell in South Africa with the Blue Bulls has also given him a new lease of life.

6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton) Soon he will be off to France but Lawes’s swansong season at his home town club has been memorable. If the Saints do march on to Twickenham this year the 35-year-old’s enduring excellence will be one of the main reasons why. It is a harsh call, nevertheless, on Juan Martín González, who has been outstanding for Saracens, Bath’s Ted Hill and Quins’ Chandler Cunningham-South, who could yet be Lawes’ long-term replacement for England.

7. Will Evans (Harlequins) Few put their body on the line as unstintingly as Evans, whose impact around the breakdown has been consistently influential. Persistent, skilful and brave, he also tops the league’s tackle charts and has featured in every one of his side’s Premiership games. It will not be his fault if Quins ultimately miss out on the play-offs, with Ben Earl and Andy Christie similarly influential for Saracens.

8. Zach Mercer (Gloucester) This has not been a season to remember for Gloucester, regardless of the outcome of next week’s Challenge Cup final. In a team that have spent lengthy periods under the cosh, however, Mercer has shown why the Cherry & Whites were so keen to lure him back from France. His consistent ability to make ground off the base of the scrum, allied to his highly versatile skill set, just edges out Bath’s Alfie Barbeary, Quins’ Alex Dombrandt and Exeter’s Greg Fisilau.

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Source: theguardian.com