Elite players from seven different clubs and all three European professional leagues are among the 15 nominees for the prestigious EPCR European Player of the Year award.
Last season’s winner, Leone Nakarawa, who played a key role in Racing 92’s qualification for the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, is nominated once again along with his teammates, Finn Russell and Simon Zebo, while No 1 ranked, Saracens, have two representatives in Alex Goode and Mako Vunipola following their 100% record in another impressive pool stage performance.
Toulouse, who will face Racing 92 in an intriguing all-French quarter-final at the end of March, have Antoine Dupont and the livewire, Cheslin Kolbe, in the list, and not surprisingly, Edinburgh Rugby’s, Viliame Mata, is included on the back of several outstanding displays during the pool stage.
Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose are nominated from Heineken Champions Cup holders, Leinster Rugby, while Ulster Rugby’s try machine, Jacob Stockdale, also gets the vote of the expert panel of judges. Munster Rugby are able to match Leinster’s representation with Tadhg Beirne, Joey Carbery and club captain, Peter O’Mahony, featuring in the star-studded longlist.
The winner of one of the most prized individual accolades in the world game will receive a specially struck gold medal as well as the Anthony Foley Memorial Trophy.
Voting for the award is now open at www.epcrugby.com/epoty and fans will be in the running to win two VIP tickets to the Heineken Champions Cup final in Newcastle next May with one night’s accommodation courtesy of EPCR, and a signed jersey of one of the Heineken Champions Cup finalist clubs.
The list will be reduced to five players in April following the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals by a combination of the public vote and the verdict of the judges, and players who have not been included in initial list of 15, but who make a significant impact in a quarter-final or semi-final match, can be considered for the shortlist.
The voting will then be reopened and the winner of the 2019 award will be announced following the Heineken Champions Cup final at St James’ Park on Saturday, 11 May.
EPCR European Player of the Year award 2019 nominees
Tadhg BEIRNE (Munster Rugby)
Joey CARBERY (Munster Rugby)
Sean CRONIN (Leinster Rugby)
Antoine DUPONT (Toulouse)
Tadhg FURLONG (Leinster Rugby)
Alex GOODE (Saracens)
Cheslin KOLBE (Toulouse)
Viliame MATA (Edinburgh Rugby)
Leone NAKARAWA (Racing 92)
Peter O’MAHONY (Munster Rugby)
Garry RINGROSE (Leinster Rugby)
Finn RUSSELL (Racing 92)
Jacob STOCKDALE (Ulster Rugby)
Mako VUNIPOLA (Saracens)
Simon ZEBO (Racing 92)
Judging Panel: Bryan Habana (Channel 4), Chris Jones (BBC Radio 5 Live), Matthieu Lartot (France Télévisions), Emmanuel Massicard (Midi Olympique), Brian O’Driscoll (BT Sport), Dimitri Yachvili (beIN Sports).
Roll of Honour – 2018: Leone Nakarawa (Racing 92); 2017: Owen Farrell (Saracens); 2016: Maro Itoje (Saracens); 2015: Nick Abendanon (ASM Clermont Auvergne); 2014: Steffon Armitage (RC Toulon); 2013: Jonny Wilkinson (RC Toulon); 2012: Rob Kearney (Leinster Rugby); 2011: Sean O’Brien (Leinster Rugby); 2010: Ronan O’Gara (Munster Rugby – best player of first 15 years of European professional club competitions)
Ulster name team for Northampton Quarter-Final trip
Michael Lowry is named to start at full-back, and is joined in the back three by Jacob Stockdale and Robert Baloucoune. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume will form the midfield duo, and Billy Burns and John Cooney are the starting half-backs.
In the front row, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring and Marty Moore retain their starting berths. Alan O’Connor will partner Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Last week’s Player of the Match, Sean Reidy, will start at blindside flanker, with Jordi Murphy skippering the team at openside and Nick Timoney at Number Eight.
John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea and Greg Jones will provide the forward reinforcements from the bench, with Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan and Ethan McIlroy named as the back line options.
Ulster team to play Northampton Saints, Challenge Cup Quarter-Final, Saturday 10 April at Franklin’s Gardens (kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport):
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (Capt.), Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
Big names miss out for Ulster
The back line sees just one change from the side that played Toulouse last Friday. Michael Lowry, Jacob Stockdale and Matt Faddes all retain their positions in the back three. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume are the starting midfield duo. Billy Burns returns at fly-half and will captain the side; he will partner John Cooney at scrum-half.
The front row remains unchanged for this game. Rob Herring is named at hooker, with Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore packing down at loosehead and tighthead prop. Alan O’Connor will partner with his brother David – who will make his first Heineken Champions Cup start with Sam Carter missing out through concussion. Sean Reidy has been selected at blindside, with Jordi Murphy returning at openside. Nick Timoney comes in to start at Number Eight to replace the injured Marcel Coetzee.
John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, and Greg Jones are the forward bench options. Academy player, Ethan McIlroy could make his European debut if called upon from the bench, and is named alongside Alby Mathewson and Ian Madigan in the back line replacements.
Ulster team to play Gloucester, Heineken Champions Cup Round 2, Saturday 19 December 2020 at Kingsholm Stadium, kick-off 3.15pm, live on BT Sport / beIN Sport:
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns (Capt.), John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, David O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
Ulster name strong side to face Toulouse
In the back three, Jacob Stockdale returns from international duty to the left wing, joining Michael Lowry at full-back and Matt Faddes on the right wing. In midfield, Stuart McCloskey also returns from the Ireland squad to partner with James Hume. Ian Madigan has been named at fly-half alongside John Cooney at scrum-half.
Having made his international debut against Scotland last week, Eric O’Sullivan, comes in to take the starting berth at loosehead prop. Rob Herring also returns from Ireland duties and is named at hooker, with Marty Moore retaining his position at tighthead. Alan O’Connor will partner with Sam Carter, who will lead the side from the second row. Sean Reidy and Jordi Murphy are named at blindside and openside, with Marcell Coetzee completing the pack at Number Eight.
John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, and Matty Rea provide the forward options, with Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore and Craig Gilroy offering back line cover from the bench.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round 1, Friday 11 December 2020 at Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport / beIN Sport:
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Ian Madigan, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (Capt.), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Matty Rea, Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore, Craig Gilroy.