Four Irish players on long-list for ERC European Player of the Year
Munster inspirational figures Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony as well as Leinster front-rowers Sean Cronin and Cian Healy have made longlist for the prestigious ERC European Player of the Year award for 2014.
The long-list was announced today following the conclusion of the pool stages of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup.
A long-list of 15 players from the 44 competing teams contains the four Irishmen as well as Ulster's Ruan Pienaar , who made the longlist both last season and in 2012, and Steffon Armitage of Toulon, who was also nominated last season, are included again along with last year's winner Jonny Wilkinson.
The Judging Panel will also have the option to consider additional players who make major contributions during the knockout stages of both tournaments before announcing a five-man shortlist following the semi-finals with the overall winner named directly after the ERC European club finals in Cardiff in May.
In addition to the decision of the panel, the 44 clubs in the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup will have the opportunity to vote for contenders nominated on the ERC European Player of the Year 2014 shortlist while supporters can also have their say on Twitter using #ERCPlayer2014, and on the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup Facebook pages.
ERC European Player of the Year 2014 longlist
Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
Miles Benjamin (Leicester Tigers)
Sean Cronin (Leinster Rugby)
Jean-Marc Doussain (Toulouse)
Matt Giteau (Toulon)
Alex Goode (Saracens)
Cian Healy (Leinster Rugby)
Fritz Lee (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
George North (Northampton Saints)
Paul O'Connell (Munster Rugby)
Peter O'Mahony (Munster Rugby)
Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)
Ruan Pienaar (Ulster Rugby)
Sitiveni Sivivatu (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon)
The ERC Panel also released the reasoning behind their selections:
Steffon Armitage - Sheer power and dynamism. The Toulon back row, who has featured at No 8 this season, won 13 turnovers in the Heineken Cup pool stage - only Justin Tipuric of Ospreys with 15 has more.
Miles Benjamin - Back from injury, and making waves in Europe. The strong-running wing scored four tries in four games for Leicester Tigers in their push to the quarter-finals - only Chris Ashton (7) and Naipolioni Nalaga (5) have more - and made eight clean breaks.
Sean Cronin - Another dynamic contender with six clean breaks to his name for Leinster in the pool stage - no other Heineken Cup hooker has made more than three this season. His success rate for line-out throwing is 86%.
Jean-Marc Doussain - The multi-talented Toulouse playmaker has a total of 15 defenders beaten which is the best for an out-half. He has also landed 13 of his 14 shots at goal.
Matt Giteau - The gifted Australian made 53 tackles for Toulon in the pool matches - the best for a centre. Giteau also scored two tries for last season's Heineken Cup champions and came up with three assists.
Alex Goode - The in-form Saracens full-back, who scored a brilliant individual try against Connacht in Round 6, is the third highest metre-maker in the Heineken Cup to date with 459 and also ranks third for defenders beaten with 21.
Cian Healy - Despite playing only 188 minutes in Europe this season, just five props have made more metres than the Leinster powerhouse who has carried for 77 metres. Healy has also beaten seven defenders, ranking him second among the Heineken Cup props.
Fritz Lee - With 53 carries, 36 out of 38 tackles made and two tries in his four matches for Clermont, the rugged, hard-running New Zealander has been the find of the European season at No 8.
George North - His 434 metres gained in the pool stage puts him in the Heineken Cup top-five metre makers. North's irresistible combination of pace, balance and power will be a massive asset to Northampton Saints as they pursue more European silverware in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Paul O'Connell - Quite simply Munster's talisman during the two-time champions' drive to yet another Heineken Cup quarter-final. Without the inspirational second row, the Irish province's chances of winning a third European title are massively diminished.
Peter O'Mahony - If O'Connell is the brain, O'Mahony is the heart. A superb all-round back row, Munster's abrasive captain has scored two tries and made 35 out of 39 tackles during the pool stage.
Louis Picamoles - The powerhouse Toulouse No 8 leads the Heineken Cup statistics in two categories this season with 84 carries and 27 defenders beaten. Picamoles' total of 300 metres gained is also the best of any forward in the tournament.
Ruan Pienaar - A class act in Ulster's 100% pool stage performance. The brilliant South African led the No 1 seeds to a Ravenhill quarter-final with a total of 54 points including two tries.
Sitiveni Sivivatu - With the highest total of clean breaks (14) and the second-best individual performance in metres gained (510), the outstanding former New Zealand wing has once again been one of the players of the tournament.
Jonny Wilkinson - The Heineken Cup's top points-scorer with 73 going into the knockout stage. Only three out-halves have made more tackles (37) than the evergreen Toulon captain.
Judging Panel: Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports), Mick Cleary (Daily Telegraph Rugby Correspondent), Emmanuel Massicard (Editor, Midi Olympique), Emile Ntamack (three-time Heineken Cup winner with Toulouse) and Gerry Thornley (Irish Times Rugby Correspondent).