George North is among the nominees for the ERC European Player of the Year
Wales wing George North could become the first Welshman to be crowned ERC European Player of the Year.
The 22-year-old has today been included on a long list of 15 names for the coveted award, which recognises the best player of the European club rugby season from both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions.
North has been nominated for a series of strong showings for Northampton Saints, with the British & Irish Lions star have switched to Franklin's Gardens from the Scarlets in the summer. He started all six fixtures in Northampton's Heineken Cup campaign, scoring tries against Leinster and the Ospreys in Rounds 4 and 5 respectively.
His score at the Liberty Stadium was particularly impressive as he raced home from fully 80 metres in mid-January. North skipped past Jeff Hassler and Tom Isaacs in limited space in Swansea having been handed possession by Kahn Fotuali'I on the edge of his 22 and his pace did the rest as he proved far too quick for covering full back Richard Fussell.
North sat out Saints' Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final thrashing of Sale Sharks but he will have the chance to press his claims to become the first player featuring in the second-tier tournament to win Europe's top prize when he starts against Harlequins on Friday night.
He will have to see off a vast array of talent to be crowned the best of the year, however, with the likes of Matt Giteau, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Paul O'Connell, Louis Picamoles and Ruan Pienaar in the running alongside last year's winner Jonny Wilkinson.
England's World Cup winning fly-half followed Leinster duo Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien in picking up the prize which came into play in 2011, after Munster's Ronan O'Gara had been chosen as the best player of the first 15 years of ERC competition.
The Judging Panel for this season's award consists of 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).
They have the option to consider additional players who make major contributions during the upcoming semi-finals of both tournaments before announcing a five-man shortlist following this weekend's matches. The winner will be named directly after the finals weekend, which takes place in Cardiff at the Arms Park on May 23 and the Millennium Stadium on May 24. In tandem with 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 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)
As the countdown continues for RWC2015, Tournament Chief Executive Debbie Jevans visited the Millennium Stadium to discuss preparations for the eight matches and reveal the positive news that 100,000 tickets for games at the home of Welsh rugby have sold in the last seven days.
Jason Harries is targeting a first win on the World Series circuit this season with Wales. The series returns to action this weekend in Dubai where Harries is part of a team hoping to build from its efforts in round one in October.
Wales skipper Jevon Groves says his side have addressed a few points from Gold Coast and aim to 'hit the ground running' in the next two rounds of the World Series, kicking off with this weekend in Dubai before heading off to South Africa next week.
Wales Sevens manager Steff Thomas is hopeful his side can build from a quarter-final spot in the opening round of the World Series in Australia when his side take part in the forthcoming double header in Dubai and South Africa.