With the English Premiership having just ticked over into the second half of the regular season, it seems a good opportunity to have a look at some of the players who have lit up the season so far. In this analysis, we will name six players who have caught the eyes of fans so far, for different reasons. We will briefly discuss how each player has been central to their team’s tactics as well.
The statistics used come directly from Premiership Rugby’s official website.
There is no doubting that Bath found a gem when they brought in Cameron Redpath from Sale Sharks back in February last year, as he has gone on to be one of their most important players so far. Bath have struggled overall this season, but Redpath has often been the one driving them forwards and giving them the spark when they have needed one. It is particularly notable that he has made 103 metres so far, and had 27 carries, and constantly runs forward from the back to create opportunities for his teammates.
The other notable statistic here is his tackle success rate, which is 91%. Centres are not just the players who get forward to score tries, but are also the ones who make tackles at the back when needed, so Redpath’s high success rate shows how he can be depended on to make tackles and stop opposing runners.
The fact that he was called up by Scotland for this year’s Six Nations highlights how impressive he has been this season, and why Bath have looked better with him in the team.
CLUB: Newcastle Falcons
POSITION: Back row
Newcastle Falcons have been one of the form sides in the English Premiership this season, currently sitting seventh in the English Premiership, and claiming some big wins. There have been plenty of good performances for them this season from the likes of centres Luther Burrell and Matias Orlando and winger Adam Radwan, but back row forward Gary Graham has definitely caught the eye. The Scotland back row forward has been immense for them, always on the front foot, and has made 89 carries and gained 174 metres from the midfield so far. In tight situations, he is the one finding gaps and getting his team moving forwards, and also possesses a try threat, particularly when Newcastle are moving the ball forward in a rolling maul.
The main role of the back row players is to be the main tacklers, and Graham’s 92% tackle success rate shows how he excels at this as well. There is no doubting that he has been a big reason for Newcastle’s impressive performances this season.
CLUB: Bristol Bears
When you think of scrum-halves in English rugby at the moment, Leicester Tigers’ Ben Youngs, Wasps’ Dan Robson and Gloucester’s Willi Heinz, who will join Worcester Warriors this summer, have all shared the places in the England team. However, Bristol Bears’ Harry Randall has been one of the best scrum-halves in the English Premiership this year. Possessing pace and awareness, Bristol’s quick attacking play has come down to moving the ball quickly at breakdown situations, and Randall tends to run with it just as much as he passes it down the line, thereby finding gaps in opposing defences before they have had a chance to organise themselves properly.
The main things to look at statistically are the carries and metres made. Both are high, at 38 and 135 respectively, and this reflects the work he does with the ball. England head coach Eddie Jones called him up to the Six Nations squad this year, and his pace and direct running gives them a different quality to what they already have with Youngs, Robson and Heinz.
The role of the fly-half is to be the creative nerve centre of the team, finding spaces behind opposing defences and moving the ball around, encouraging the quicker players to get into good areas of the pitch. Harlequins had a poor start to the season, but have looked better since general manager Billy Millard took over as interim boss, replacing former England defence coach Paul Gustard. Marcus Smith, however, has constantly been in good form, and has comfortably been one of the best English players for a few seasons now.
As well as finding teammates and changing the game tactically when needed, he has also been comfortable when he himself has the ball. 52 carries show how he is not afraid to run with the ball and look to create a chance for himself, and 380 metres made backs that up. He doesn’t score many tries, because his runs tend to be to gain ground for his team, rather than to score tries, but he has made 10 clean breaks this season, showing how defenders struggle to stop him when he does get going.
CLUB: Exeter Chiefs
POSITION: Number 8
We could hardly put together a list of the best players in the English Premiership without including Sam Simmonds. The Exeter Chiefs number 8 has been by far the league’s player of the season, without a shadow of a doubt. His 13 tries see him hold the position of top try-scorer so far, he has beaten the second-most defenders, with 37 failing to stop him, and he has made 11 clean breaks, so, when he gets going, he is difficult to stop. It has become the case that, whenever he gets the ball, we just know something special will happen, and it usually does.
Given his attacking power and threat, it is a massive surprise to almost every England fan that Eddie Jones continues to overlook him, particularly when the Roses have struggled in the Six Nations so far. However, Warren Gatland is seemingly keeping an eye on him, given the former Wales boss’ appearance at Exeter’s game against Bath at the Rec last weekend, so the British and Irish Lions could happen for him if he keeps his form up.
It is not just in attack that he is important, though, with him having a 97% tackle success rate. Being a back row player, this is one of his main roles, but what helps is that he can make the tackle and also get the ball forward when his team win the ball, and that is why he has been such a complete player for the Chiefs.
We have mentioned with some of the other players in this article how the main job of the back row players is to tackle players, but the flankers in particular are generally the first ones to the breakdown situation on the ground, helping to stop opposing players getting the ball out quickly.
However, they also look to get over the ball with the intention of winning a turnover, and Harlequins flanker Will Evans has been the best at doing this in 2020/2021. His 17 turnovers has been unmatched so far, highlighting how he has been one of Harlequins’ most important players this season, and a big reason for them currently sitting third in the English Premiership. His tackle success rate is 90%, which is not as high as other players in his position, but the number of tackles he has made is 130, which is the second-most. These statistics show how he has been exceptional in defence all season.
He doesn’t carry the biggest attacking threat, having only scored one try, beaten four defenders and made no clean breaks, but Harlequins have other players to do that. Evans’ role is simply to win the ball back from opponents, helping to get his side back on the front foot when opponents are looking to break forwards.
In conclusion, this analysis has listed six players who have made a big impact on their teams’ fortunes this season, and from different areas of the team. The key point is that all six have the ability to change the game for their team, which is why they have stood out compared to others in their positions and in the English Premiership overall. Their statistics have backed up the points made in this analysis, demonstrating what they all bring to the team, and there is no reason why these players should not be internationals, either now or in the future.