IT IS strange to see that Leinster's Jonathan Sexton, Munster's Ronan O'Gara and Ulster's Stephen Ferris are the only Irish-based players among the 15 nominated for this year's ERC European Player of the Year.
In fact, this year's winner will follow in the footsteps of Leinster's Sean O'Brien (2011) and O'Gara (2000) in what is fast becoming a coveted personal award in a team environment.
The surprise factor is gleaned from Munster's qualification as the Heineken Cup's number one seeds and Leinster's impressive form, which makes them favour-ites to defend their European title.
Last year's shortlist comprised Leinster's Jamie Heaslip, Isa Nacewa and O'Brien, Stade Francais number eight Sergio Parisse and Northampton Saints prop Soane Tonga'uiha.
The judging panel for this season's accolade is made up of Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports), Raphael Ibanez (Heineken Cup ambassador), Stephen Jones (Sunday Times), Emmanuel Massicard (Midi Olympique) and Gerry Thornley (Irish Times).
A shortlist of five players will be announced following the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals (April 27/28/29) and the ERC European Player of the Year winner will be selected after the London European finals weekend on May 18/19.
The contenders for this year's ERC European Player of Year are:
•Jonathan Sexton (Leinster);
•Ronan O'Gara (Munster);
•Stephen Ferris (Ulster);
•Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse);
•Timoci Matanavou (Toulouse);
•Mouritz Botha (Saracens);
•Owen Farrell (Saracens);
•Mike Brown (Harlequins);
•Antoine Claassen (Brive);
•Wesley Fofana (Clermont);
•Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues); l Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh);
•Netani Talei (Edinburgh);
•Ignacio Mieres (Exeter Chiefs);
•Ben Morgan (Scarlets).