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James Haskell: It’s Wade or Care as my man of the season

 Christian WadeComing to the business-end of the season means finals, tours and awards. The shortlist of names for this year’s Premiership Player of the Year has emerged:  Christian Wade, Tom Youngs, Julian Salvi, Danny Care, Akapusi Qera and Steve Borthwick.

They are all worthy nominees to win this prestigious award, which Chris Robshaw claimed last year.

There are few surprises on the list, as they all had outstanding seasons in different ways. It would be far too easy to give the try-scorers and flash boys all the credit and not focus on those that undertake the less glamorous roles.

Steve Borthwick is a prime example of this. Not known for his amazing footwork, it would be unfair to compare him with, say, Danny Care! However, Borther’s leadership and work rate have helped steer Saracens to the top of the Premiership and the semi-finals of the H-Cup. He has been such a consistent performer for Saracens and is still, in my view, the shrewdest lineout operator going.

He can unlock the opposition’s calls like a one man enigma decoding machine. This is done through hours of analysis; watching calls, player tells and the like. Very much like an accomplished poker player.

I was lucky enough to have Steve as my England captain and his professionalism is an example for any young player. If he was younger,  you would see him still playing a vital role in the England team.

Akapusi Qera is another player who may not score many tries, but has been consistently one of the Premierships best No.7s over the last few years. When he goes well, Gloucester go well. That is always a sign of an influential player, who can lift the games of others around him.

As a fellow back rower who has played against “Q” at domestic and international level, you have to admire his physicality and his ability to carry the ball and link with the backs. He may not be the loudest of characters, more of a work horse – he just gets on with it, be that cutting down the opposition or causing mayhem at the ruck area.

Julian Salvi sits alongside Qera as one of the top sevens. I am not sure anyone has been as successful or disruptive at the breakdown. His ability to tackle a player, then bounce to his feet and steal the ball is very McCaw-esque. The Leicester boys sing Salvi’s praises and it’s always a good sign when your teammates talk you up as they know you inside-out.

Tom Young’s has had a truly fantastic season for club and country. It is hard enough breaking into elite rugby in the first place without then making the transition from being one of the girls in the backs to a forward and a front row forward at that!

I don’t want to come across as biased but one player I feel has to be very close to having the award in his hands is my young team-mate, Christian Wade. I had heard a lot about Wadey while I was playing for the Highlanders. He burst on to the Premiership scene with a fantastic try scoring debut last season. I assumed he would have a bit of swagger about him, a misplaced arrogance that fast Premiership success can sometimes bring.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, Wadey, is one of the nicest and most down to earth players out there.  Don’t be confused by the snap backs and Beats-by-Dre headphones. He doesn’t have an arrogant bone in his body.

I am surprised he has not featured internationally this season. If you ask “people” about what his weaknesses are they say “defense”. I have no idea who these people are. Wadey tackles like the best of them. I think people just see a small  winger, and go “Well he is great in attack but just can’t defend”. It’s rubbish!

There are some players who are unlucky not to be on the list, guys like Maco Vunipola and Owen Farrell. The nature of the Premiership is every team is competitive and the standards are going up. However, there are just too many talented people and only a few award nominations available.

Whoever wins this year’s award will be very deserving. Personally I feel it has to be between Christian Wade and the supremely talented Danny Care.

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