(Photo: Getty Images)
By Jake Jones
Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards and winger Vereniki Goneva have been named Premiership Rugby’s top coach and player for 2018.
The Falcons have reached the play-offs for the first time under Richards, who took charge in 2012 after his Harlequins ‘bloodgate’ ban ended.
Dean Richards beat Exeter boss Rob Baxter and Saracens’ Mark McCall to win the award, capping a resurgence for a coach whose reputation was tarnished after his role in the ‘bloodgate’ scandal.
Newcastle’s fourth-place finish is their best since winning the title in 1998 with the likes of Rob Andrew, Doddie Weir and a young Jonny Wilkinson in the team.
Since then, their best seasons were back-to-back sixth-place finishes in 2001 and 2002.
Goneva, 34, is the league’s joint top try-scorer with 13 this season.
The Fijian beat Exeter’s highly-rated flanker Don Armand, Wasps’ Gloucester-bound fly-half Danny Cipriani, Sale scrum-half Faf De Klerk and Northampton flanker Jamie Gibson to the top player award.
Speaking about Goneva, Richards said: “Niki is a very humble guy who will take no pleasure in being singled out for an individual award, although clearly he will be honoured to receive this accolade.
“Even in a season like we are having it is hard not to single him out when he has performed to such a consistently high level throughout.
“He defies the ageing process with the physical condition he keeps himself in and he is a phenomenal athlete.”
Sinoti Sinoti’s score against Exeter in round 13 was voted by the public as Try of the Season, to complete a hat-trick of awards for Newcastle.
Exeter back-row Sam Simmonds, 23, won the Young Player award after scoring 12 tries and making his England debut.