Big numbers: Tom O'Flaherty, Lewis Ludlow and Zach Mercer
With that remarkable final at Twickenham on Saturday, the 2020-21 Gallagher Premiership season came to a close. But don’t start dreaming about how Harlequins will defend their title once September rolls around just yet.
There have been a number of standout performers in each of rugby’s technical areas of expertise who deserve recognition. And what sticks out covering the list of names below is how many of the chart-toppers are both uncapped and qualify for England.
With that in mind, here are your gold, silver and bronze medallists from the 2020-21 Premiership campaign.
*Note: All stats cover the regular Premiership season and do not include the play-offs
Tackles: Lewis Ludlow (Gloucester) – 280 🥇
🥈 Matt Rogerson (London Irish) – 228
🥉 Miles Reid (Bath) – 218
Sunday’s cancellation of England ‘A”s first fixture against Scotland ‘A’ denied Ludlow the opportunity to captain his country, which was a shame. Eddie Jones and John Mitchell felt Ludlow was the right choice to lead the side despite there being more experienced options in the squad in Charlie Ewels and Ellis Genge.
His work-rate and leadership with Gloucester, in a testing season with the club only picking up form after Christmas, were both hugely impressive. To top the tackle charts in any season is impressive but to do it by such a wide margin, over 50 clear of London Irish’s Matt Rogerson in second, deserves plenty of praise.
Hopefully Ludlow gets a cap against either the USA or Canada in the coming weeks to round off a fine season.
We knew we'd seen that Lewis Ludlow hit before 😮
On Gareth Anscombe in the 2018 Challenge Cup final.
On Jacob Stockdale today.
Two identical, perfectly timed hits from the @gloucesterrugby man 💥#HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/EbUhD3yqEA
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 19, 2020
Carries: Zach Mercer (Bath) – 251 🥇
🥈 Sam Simmonds (Exeter) – 244
🥉 Dave Ewers (Exeter) – 238
There’s a sense of mixed feelings about Mercer’s imminent move to France to play for Montpellier in the Top 14. He’s crossing the channel after arguably his best season for Bath, scoring five tries in the league and potentially playing his way back into England’s favour, having not been capped since 2018.
But instead Mercer is leaving the country, a choice which was no doubt made at the time given that he was not on England’s radar. A couple of seasons in France should help Mercer’s development and he’s still only 24, but Bath are losing one of their top players.
Finishing as the top carrier in the league ahead of anyone from Exeter takes some doing but Mercer pulled it off, just about.
Zach Mercer has been named @premrugby player of the month for April 🏅
The @BathRugby back-row was at his brilliant best all month, but his performance against Leicester had @IamAustinHealey and @BenKay5 singing his praises 👏 pic.twitter.com/MIN1MF2RTx
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) May 13, 2021
Metres made: Tom O’Flaherty (Exeter) – 1253 🥇
🥈 Tom Parton (London Irish) – 1088
🥉 Ollie Hassell-Collins (London Irish) – 995
London Irish’s presence in the top three is worth noting. The Exiles didn’t lack for width this season, constantly hunting space out wide and often over-playing their hand leading to interception tries or turnovers. But their young back-three are hugely exciting, and Parton and Hassell-Collins were both called up by England at the start of the summer (before surprisingly being released).
This is really about O’Flaherty though, who in case anyone didn’t realise does qualify for England. Perhaps his time at Cardiff University and then playing for Ospreys has led to some confusion regarding his eligibility, but the Lambeth-born O’Flaherty has been one of the league’s more dizzying threats in attack for some time.
A bit like Ludlow with the tackles, that’s a significant gap between O’Flaherty and the rest for making metres. And like Josh Bassett at Wasps, O’Flaherty’s a Premiership winger who consistently delivers and deserves a Test chance.
The flying O'Flaherty! 😲✈️
He really did take off there! 🤩#GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/yY1c4QvJH0
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) May 30, 2021
Lineouts won: Hanro Liebenberg (Leicester) – 109 🥇
🥈 Greg Peterson (Newcastle) – 97
🥉 Sean Robinson (Newcastle) – 83
Lineout steals: Sam Skinner (Exeter) – 10 🥇
🥈 Lewis Ludlow (Gloucester) – 9
🥉 Ed Slater (Gloucester) – 7
Grouping the two set-piece categories together, and it’s notably our first without an English winner. Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese were both excellent signings by Leicester as they sought to add some more bite back into their set-piece, and the two South Africans have done so well that Tigers dipped back into the South African back row market to bring the promising Marco van Staden to Mattioli Woods Welford Road next season.
Newcastle’s set-piece also deserves plenty of praise given how high up Peterson, the USA lock, and Robinson feature. Robinson was due to be part of England’s summer plans before suffering a knee injury in training, which is a shame.
Finally, regarding the steals, one of George Skivington’s primary objectives when he took over at Gloucester last summer was to make the set-piece a force again at Kingsholm. Ludlow and Slater finishing with plenty of steals suggests the time going into the lineout is working.
Defenders beaten: Tom O’Flaherty (Exeter) – 75 🥇
🥈 Zach Mercer (Bath) – 61
🥉 Jasper Wiese (Leicester) – 57
That’s right, it’s O’Flaherty again, comfortably topping a stat category. If Charles Piutau or Semi Radradra were producing these kinds of numbers then we would be waxing lyrical about how world-class they are. Now, O’Flaherty might not deserve that kind of status, but his numbers are enormously impressive. This try is less about beating defenders, but it’s an exceptional finish.
Still can't quite believe this happened…
Tom O'Flaherty with a moment of absolute brilliance 🔥
Genuinely beggars belief 🤯 pic.twitter.com/iv7NAGK1aN
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) November 29, 2020
Interestingly, after O’Flaherty it’s the No 8s who have left tacklers looking silly, with Mercer and the excellent Wiese joined in the top five by Exeter’s Simmonds (unsurprisingly). Ben Loader, the London Irish wing, is the next-highest back on 52.
Of that top five, in terms of terrifying prospects to tackle, Wiese probably tops the list. The British and Irish Lions might see a bit of him in South Africa over the next couple of weeks.
Offloads: Charles Piutau (Bristol) – 29 🥇
🥈 Mike Brown (Harlequins) – 24
🥉 Francois Venter (Worcester), Curtis Rona (London Irish), Daniel du Preez (Sale) – 23
He was going to turn up at some point, wasn’t he. What’s interesting is that Piutau actually only played 12 games in the regular season for Bristol, meaning he missed out on a further 10 fixtures to add to that offloads tally. Which is frankly quite terrifying.
Mike Brown did pretty well too considering he missed the last four regular season games, but if he can take that offloading ability up to Kingston Park next season then Newcastle’s attack will certainly kick on.
It’s a tie for third, with Francois Venter popping up after a desperate season for Worcester. London Irish re-signing Curtis Rona was a good bit of business given how he gets their attack firing with his hard-running, offloading game. And Daniel du Preez’s good form has been rewarded with a call-up from the Springboks.
Turnovers won: Will Evans (Harlequins) – 29 🥇
🥈 Tommy Reffell (Leicester) – 17
🥉 Josh Bayliss (Bath) – 15
Evans ended up in a few team of the seasons and understandably so. If there’s one tinge of sadness to Harlequins’ title triumph, it’s that Evans didn’t get to be part of it after suffering a serious knee injury in the win over London Irish back in April. Before that he produced the kind of prolific breakdown form that Jack Willis or Tom Curry would have been proud of. What a weapon for Harlequins to get back next season for their title defence.
Tommy Reffell joins Scarlets’ Jac Morgan in the WhatsApp group titled ‘Surprisingly omitted Wales back-rowers’, given neither have received a Wales call-up despite some impressive form this season.
And nice to see Josh Bayliss pop up on this list too after a fine season for Bath, with Bayliss and Reid suggesting Bath’s back row has a promising future even without Mercer.
Clean breaks: Ollie Hassell-Collins – 37 🥇
🥈 Joe Marchant (Harlequins) – 34
🥉 Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins) – 27
Last but not least, it’s top spot for the young London Irish wing who, as mentioned previously, England took a quick look at earlier in the summer before turning to other options out wide. Hassell-Collins has the speed and size (at 6ft 4in) to be a threat at Test level, you would imagine. But he may have to wait for an opportunity.
From there it’s not a surprise to see Marchant and Dombrandt in the top three, and these numbers don’t even include Harlequins’ entertaining rugby from the semi-finals and final either.
The support for Dombrandt to play for England has swelled over the past couple of seasons but why isn’t there a similar clamour for Marchant to be part of Eddie Jones’ side? He’s a supremely intelligent player in attack and defence who after a stint in Super Rugby has been in superb form for Harlequins.