THE ERC HAS announced a five-man shortlist ahead of naming a European Player of the Year for 2012.
Of the nominees, which are picked by a judging panel of journalists including Gerry Thornley of The Irish Times, all but one plays his club rugby in Ireland and unsurprisingly come from the teams which will compete in the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday.
Leinster pair Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney, and Ulster’s Stephen Ferris and Ruan Pienaar are joined by Toulon and former England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who plays in the Amlin Challenge Cup final against Biarritz on Friday.
Here are the reasons the ERC give for choosing each player:
- Stephen Ferris has been in outstanding form for Ulster Rugby in their thrilling run to a first Heineken Cup final in 13 years.
- Rob Kearney pushed himself into contention with two magnificent displays for Leinster Rugby in the knock-out stage wins over Cardiff Blues and ASM Clermont Auvergne. The full-back scored two tries against the Blues at the Aviva Stadium before dropping a superb goal and creating a try for Cian Healy against Clermont in Bordeaux.
- Ruan Pienaar of Ulster Rugby has totalled 71 points in pool and knockout stages to date in a series of incredibly polished performances.
- Jonathan Sexton has been hugely impressive for Leinster Rugby with a personal haul of 88 points in this season’s Heineken Cup to date.
- Jonny Wilkinson has been a key figure in Toulon’s powerful drive to a second Amlin Challenge Cup final with 17 points in the quarter-final success over last season’s champions, Harlequins, which was followed up by a match-winning haul of 27 points from seven penalties and two drop goals in the semi-final victory over Stade Francais Paris
The winner will be announced next week.