ENRG Sport’s Edinburgh Rugby 2019/20 Season Awards
With the Pro14 season having ground to a halt due to COVID-19, Erin McRitchie has taken some time to give consideration to the most impressive performances produced by Edinburgh Rugby players this season. Here, Erin names twelve worthy award winners from Richard Cockerill’s squad.
Forward of the season: Pierre Schoeman
Pierre Schoeman has put in numerous man of the match performances this season, and his work-rate means he is easily named our forward of the season. The loose head has caused strife in the scrum for many an opposition prop, whilst his direct ball carrying style and line speed have been impressive for such a big man.
The prop, who was named player of the 2018/19 season by Edinburgh, has continually made an impact for the capital side, both in a starting berth and when coming off the bench. Most notably, in March he was named man of the match against Cardiff Blues at BT Murrayfield having only played 35 minutes.
Schoeman is a positive, dedicated and uncompromising prop who gives Edinburgh an edge in any set piece or defensive line, as well as popping up in attack to make the odd break with ball in hand. He will be pivotal to Edinburgh’s pack going forward, and Cockerill will surely continue to rely on his expertise.
Back of the season: Darcy Graham
Darcy Graham comes out on top in what was a hotly contested field. Of his contenders, the departing Simon Hickey has been instrumental in games with his boot and management. In the centre, it has been a season inspired by the reclaim of form in the partnership of Matt Scott and Mark Bennett. Meanwhile, it is decidedly hard to ignore the finishing or rocketing pace of Duhan Van Der Merwe on the wing.
Graham comes out on top due to the combination of his electric pace, his tackle evading jink-stepping and his committed defensive prowess. His form this season was awarded not only with multiple Edinburgh starts and appearances, but also with international selection in Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad.
His ability to know when to accelerate his pace, how to toe a touchline and break through an oncoming tackle has seen him cross the whitewash a number of times, and has secured his place in the Edinburgh backline for many a game to come.
Forward test player of the season: Jamie Ritchie
Jamie Ritchie is unquestionably the winner of this award. His performance in the Scottish pack this international season has been exceedingly dominant, and has seen his name well secured in Townsend’s list of go-to back rows. Comfortable in the wide channels, his ball carrying resembles an older school style of flanker whilst his accomplishments at the breakdown enable him to carry his own in the style of rugby preferred by Edinburgh and Scotland.
It is more than likely that he could become a member of a Scotland back row made solely of all Edinburgh players. The blunt force of Magnus Bradbury, the dogged ‘stop me if you can’ style of Hamish Watson and the raw determination of Ritchie is already an accomplished team. Not one of them is ever willing to take a backwards step. Their stats for carries/metres/tackles in the Italy game this February speak for themselves – Ritchie charted 13/26/11, Watson 14/32/15 and Bradbury 13/34/3.
Ritchie alone picks up this award, however. His man of the match performance against France in this year’s Six Nations showed the work and determination of a player who has become comfortable on the international stage, who backs his own skill and has much more to give in a Scotland jersey.
Back test player of the season: Blair Kinghorn
Blair Kinghorn just tips teammate Darcy Graham for this award. The young back – who has the ability to cover both wings as well as fullback – has proved to have a keen eye for attacking chances, and is able to connect well with his half backs.
Hitting lines well, knowing his options and the pace he can accelerate into serve Kinghorn well in any jersey, but these skills have lead to him scoring some impressive Scotland tries, most notably a hattrick against Italy in the 2019 Six Nations.
Kinghorn’s international form has also benefited from the connection he already has with fellow Edinburgh back Graham. They know the other’s moves and tendencies from club level so have linked up on many an occasion for a fast-paced break to put Scotland on the front foot. The dusting of flare he gives his game means he can produce an exhilarating run with ball in hand.
Most improved player of the season: George Taylor
George Taylor has to take this award for the impressive way he has well and truly embraced his opportunity. Originally afforded to him by injuries to Chris Dean and James Johnstone, Taylor’s showing of desire and skill lead to him beginning to challenge the back-in-form duo of Matt Scott and Mark Bennett for a starting centre berth.
His form this season began to build from little moments like the injection of pace he displayed to break against Cardiff Blues in October to feed Bennett for a try. He made good on his every start, truly giving head coach Richard Cockerill a selection headache when he snared a man of the match award for his performance against Agen in November.
Taylor’s progression in what is being deemed his breakout season was awarded with a new contract in December, and the young centre has shown no signs of letting up since. A fresh, hard line-running, capable back, both coaches and fans alike will be expecting to see Taylor take an even bigger part in Edinburgh’s ever-developing squad upon the departure of Matt Scott from the club.
Character of the season: Pierre Schoeman
Pierre Schoeman has undeniably cemented his position as a fan favourite at Edinburgh. He seems to have endeared himself with his positivity, commitment and ability to have his name shortened to a chant for the crowd every time he makes a carry – “Shoooeee” has rang around Murrayfield many a time this season.
He did have some competition for this title, from none other than the head coach himself, Richard Cockerill. Unflinchingly honest, his desire to improve Edinburgh and ensure he has a team which never rests on its laurels and has desire, has been clear for all to see. He has also created many a soundbite. “I’m the head coach, and even I was bored watching that.” – was his humorously blunt review of the Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues game this March.
Work-rate of the season: Hamish Watson
Hamish Watson – at club and international, and not just this season – has consistently had an impressively high work-rate. His dogged determination to break tackles with ball in hand and to overturn possession at the breakdown has on many occasions been pivotal to setting Edinburgh on the front foot.
Watson is regularly featured in both Edinburgh and Scotland team line-ups, with his skills both on and off the ball exploiting opposition weaknesses and his surprising pace often proving advantageous. An electric back-rower, Watson’s work-rate may on occasion get overlooked when the play is dominated by the backs, but he is resolute in toiling through each and every game.
Leader of the season: Nic Groom
Nic Groom was a new face to grace the capital colours of Edinburgh this season, but he has fast become a leading figure in Cockerill’s squad. Captaining on his debut in the first game of the Pro14 season against Zebre at BT Murrayfield in September, he seemed comfortable with the leadership role immediately.
Groom is in the lucky position that when international windows occur, he still has experienced figures like Fraser McKenzie to control the front pack. Outside of the test tournaments, the Edinburgh team is bolstered by leaders like Grant Gilchrist and Stuart McInally.
The recognition for leader of this season ultimately goes to Groom, however. Running out for Edinburgh 11 times this season, Groom has controlled his players like a well drilled sergeant from the scrum half position.
Home try of the season: Darcy Graham v Glasgow Warriors
Darcy Graham’s try against Glasgow Warriors at BT Murrayfield in December takes the cake here. All made possible by a beautifully timed, one-handed offload from Bill Mata, this dart over the whitewash opened the scoring for the night. Graham’s jet of acceleration, and a shifty jink of Ratu Tagive, put the Hawick winger over the line, soaring round underneath the posts.
Graham has been somewhat of a try scoring connoisseur this season. In January, against Agen, he became the first Edinburgh player to score four tries in a professional match. Specifically, his second score that night saw him evade four desperate Agen defenders to fly down the touchline and across the line.
Away try of the season: Duhan Van Der Merwe v Scarlets
Duhan Van Der Merwe being the winner of an award for try scoring will be of no great surprise to anyone. The South African has firmly cemented his place as a capable, dependable and consistent try scorer since joining Edinburgh in 2017. He wins away try of the season for his score against Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets in February.
The try took just six minutes of the first half to come to fruition. A quick pass from the breakdown allowed Matt Scott to flick the ball to Van Der Merwe, who had made his way in from his wing, before the dangerous finisher carved a run through the Scarlets defence to run in five points beneath the posts.
Best newcomer of the season: Mike Willemse
Mike Willemse has been remarkably instrumental to the Edinburgh scrum this season. The hooker signed a deal from the Southern Kings ahead of the 2019/20 season and has been a terrific signing for Richard Cockerill. So integral has the hooker become, he holds the joint most appearances for Edinburgh this season – both he and Pierre Schoeman sit on 17 games played.
A combative and dynamic hooker, Willemse has joined his fellow South African contingent at Edinburgh in making a profound impact on the squad. Scoring his first try against Scarlets at BT Murrayfield in October, Willemse has showed he is a well-rounded player.
Willemse’s dedicated work-rate, skill over ball, strength in the set piece, and ability to recognise a gap to break from has benefited Edinburgh numerous times this season. A capable hooker whose style closely mirrors Stuart McInally’s, Willemse has been a welcome and key addition to the Edinburgh squad.
Player to watch next season: Luke Crosbie
Luke Crosbie has truly established himself as one to watch in the Edinburgh pack. The former Scottish academy graduate is in the perfect development ground, surrounded by the likes of Watson, Bradbury, Ritchie as well as Nick Haining and Bill Mata. Both the club and Crosbie recognise the role he could come to play in their back row, as the young forward re-signed with the club in December 2019.
Crosbie can be abrasive with ball in hand, and destructive in the defensive tackle. A long, striding running style means he also possesses surprising pace for a flanker. Crosbie has been on the fringes of this Edinburgh team for a couple of seasons now but, much like George Taylor, he has grasped firmly the opportunities afforded to him by the prolonged international window this season.
The young flanker often displays the same combative nature which his fellow Edinburgh back-row players utilise, but he also has a sense of dynamism about him. Crosbie certainly seems to have the desire and drive to start racking up the Edinburgh caps.