On an evening in Dublin when Rassie Erasmus was voted Coach of the Season by his peers after guiding Munster to the top of the PRO12 league table and back into the semi-finals in his first year as director of rugby, six of his players were also named to the Guinness PRO12 Dream Team.
Yet one of them, Bleyendaal, was not in attendance at the Guinness Storehouse last night, having been sent for scans on a bicep injured during the province’s 50-14 final-round hammering of outgoing champions Connacht.
“He’s gone for scans and stuff today, that’s why he can’t be here, it’s serious enough that he’s had to go for scans,” Erasmus said of the New Zealand-born project player, named Munster’s player of the year at their own awards ceremony last Thursday.
Asked if Bleyendaal was a doubt for the semi-final,” Erasmus replied: “Yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Ulster’s exciting back three star Charles Piutau received the most coveted award of the nine on offer last night as he was voted the Guinness PRO12 Players’ Player of the Season, while Leinster fly-half Joey Carbery was named Young Player of the season after a vote of a 30-strong media panel from across Italy, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Both were on the Dream Team selected by the same panel, featuring 11 players from Irish provinces, although the Rhino Golden Boot was won by Ospreys’ Sam Davies, who finished the season with an 88% success rate from the kicking tee having made 44 of his 50 shots at goal.
Scarlets winger Steff Evans was recognised as the Guinness PRO12’s top try-scorer as he finished the regular season on 11 tries to help his region to third in the table while team-mate and hooker Ken Owens was chosen as captain of the Dream Team.
Ruan Pienaar’s score for Ulster against Glasgow in Round 15, starting and finishing a wonderful team move from inside his own half, won a Try of the Season vote while Connacht skipper John Muldoon was on hand to receive the Specsavers Fair Play Award on behalf of last season’s champions.
Erasmus insisted his coach of the season award was not merely a personal accolade.
“It’s an honour, but I think it’s a difficult thing to give to one person, because every squad has three or four coaches, and I think I do the least amount of coaching, with Felix (Jones), Jacques (Nienaber) and Jerry (Flannery).
“And the conditioning coaches, everyone there contributes. So I’ll say it’s a coaching team award, that would be the best way to put it. It is an honour, I’ll take it. it’s always an honour to achieve something.
“The PRO12 is an especially tough competition, it’s week 46 (of the season) now, because it’s intertwined with European Cup and you have to have a big squad. There are stages when you get really pushed around.
“For me, it’s one of the toughest competitions I’ve coached in. There’s also the styles you coach against, there’s Pat (Lam) who just runs in, then there’s Gregor Townsend who plays on an artificial pitch and they play a certain style and you have to adapt every single week. For our coaching team, it’s a great honour.”
Erasmus also had to deal with Munster’s response to the sudden, tragic death of head coach Anthony Foley last October, which saw Erasmus on the training field more than he had imagined would be the case having left his role as South African Rugby’s High Performance Manager.
“That was my role this season even more, I came in as Director of Rugby, and obviously Axel passed away. So the coaching was more done by Felix, Jacques, and Jerry. I also coach but percentage wise, I think 70-80% was on trying to put the S&C and medical and technical sides, and then the three coaches.
“When Axel passed away, my role got amplified, if that’s the right word, and that was a challenge. We haven’t won anything yet, but to have a bunch of players who are really adaptable, really willing to change and learn, helped a lot.”
Connacht Rugby; Top Try-Scorer: Steff Evans (Scarlets); Rhino Golden Boot: Sam Davies (Ospreys Rugby); Young Player of the Season: Joey Carbery (Leinster Rugby); Independent.ie Try of the Season: Ruan Pienaar (Ulster Rugby); Dream Team Captain: Ken Owens (Scarlets); Guinness PRO12 Coach of the Season: Rassie Erasmus (Munster Rugby); Guinness PRO12 Players’ Player of the Season: Charles Piutau (Ulster Rugby); Guinness PRO12 Chairman’s Award: Nigel Owens.
15 Tiernan O’Halloran (Connacht Rugby) 14 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) 13 Jaco Taute (Munster Rugby) 12 Rory Scannell (Munster Rugby) 11 Charles Piutau (Ulster Rugby) 10 Tyler Bleyendaal (Munster Rugby) 9 Ruan Pienaar (Ulster Rugby) 8 Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby) 7 James Davies (Scarlets) 6 Dan Leavy (Leinster Rugby) 5 Billy Holland (Munster Rugby) 4 Ben Toolis (Edinburgh Rugby) 3 John Ryan (Munster Rugby) 2 Ken Owens, Capt (Scarlets) 1 Dave Kilcoyne (Munster Rugby).