Dean Richards and Vereniki Goneva: Newcastle duo win top Premiership awards
Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards and winger Vereniki Goneva have been named Premiership Rugby’s top coach and player for 2018.
The Falcons have reached the play-offs for the first time under Richards, who took charge in 2012 after his Harlequins ‘bloodgate’ ban ended.
Goneva, 34, is the league’s joint top try-scorer with 13 this season.
Exeter back-row Sam Simmonds, 23, won the Young Player award after scoring 12 tries and making his England debut.
Newcastle’s fourth-place finish is their best since winning the title in 1998 with the likes of Rob Andrew, Doddie Weir and a young Jonny Wilkinson in the team.
Since then, their best seasons were back-to-back sixth-place finishes in 2001 and 2002.
Dean Richards beat Exeter boss Rob Baxter and Saracens’ Mark McCall to win the award, capping a renaissance for a coach who was banned for three years in 2009 for his role in the ‘bloodgate’ scandal.
He was forced to resign as Harlequins director of rugby after winger Tom Williams used a fake blood capsule in order that already-substituted fly-half Nick Evans could come on as a replacement as Quins chased a late drop-goal to try and overcome Leinster in a Heineken Cup quarter-final.
The fall-out stained the reputation of much-respected former player and coach, but he was given a second chance by Newcastle six years ago following their relegation to the Championship.
Promotion followed the season after, but in the following three they were one place off the drop before finishing eighth last term.
Chris Jones, BBC rugby union reporter
Richards last won this award in 2001 when in charge of Leicester, so the fact he’s scooping it almost two decades later is a sign of his remarkable longevity and his ability to reinvent his squads, and himself as a coach.
Much like when he was at Harlequins, Richards has overseen a long-term plan at Newcastle, with canny recruitment and sensible delegation two of his many strengths.
Richards insists the England job is not for him; the RFU may always wonder what might have been.”
Ever-green Goneva keeps impressing
At 34, most players are starting to wind down, but Vereniki Goneva has had his best season ever in terms of tries scored.
His 13 in the league this season included two against former club Leicester last month as Newcastle won at Welford Road for the first time in more than two decades – effectively ending The Tigers’ play-off hopes and all-but guaranteeing the Falcons a top-four place.
In the last two seasons Goneva has registered his best and third-best try-scoring return as a focal point in an exciting Newcastle attack.
He beat Exeter’s highly-rated flanker Don Armand, Wasps’ Gloucester-bound fly-half Danny Cipriani, Sale scrum-half Faf De Klerk and Northampton flanker Jamie Gibson to the top player award.
Simmonds award caps break-out year
If Sam Simmonds was a footballer, the last 12 months would be described as ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff.
From relative obscurity he broke into the Exeter team towards the end of last season, scoring the winning try in the final seconds that saw the Chiefs beat Saracens in their play-off semi-final – and Exeter went on to take their first-ever title.
The fast-running back-row has continued to impress, forcing his way into Eddie Jones’ squad for the Autumn internationals, and he started three of England’s five Six Nations games, scoring two tries against Italy in England’s opener.
He also contributed five tries in Exeter’s first five Premiership games of the season and crossed on his Champions Cup debut as the Chiefs beat Glasgow in October.
Simmonds ended the season with five tries in four games, including a hat-trick at relegated London Irish, as Exeter topped the table for the fist time in their history.