Quite often, picking the Welsh Player of the Year is a pretty straightforward exercise.
That was certainly the case last season when Leigh Halfpenny was the obvious choice after being named Player of the Six Nations.
And it was the same story in 2012 when chop-tackle king Dan Lydiate earned the same accolade.
But this year, itâs far from such a simple task.
In fact, when I sat down this week to choose my Player of the Year in the Welsh Rugby Writersâ Association poll, I found myself scratching my head.
Itâs not that there havenât been excellent performances from Welsh players this season, there have been plenty.
Itâs just there isnât one candidate who stands out head and shoulders above the rest.
The WalesOnline Welsh Rugby Awards – Voting opens on Monday 12 May
Much of this is probably down to the fact that itâs been a relatively disappointing season for Wales by recent standards.
Usually, itâs performances at international level that really hold sway and make the difference when it comes to choosing the Player of the Year.
But this term, Wales have failed to hit the heights of recent seasons, slipping down to third in the Six Nations after back-to-back title wins.
Moreover, itâs difficult to pick out many players who have performed consistently well at Test level throughout the campaign.
Richard Hibbard was named player of the autumn campaign, having continued the outstanding, selfless form he had shown in the first half of the year.
But the Ospreys hooker tailed off somewhat during the Six Nations and ended up losing his place to Ken Owens for the tournament finale against Scotland.
And if you look at others who shone in the autumn, such as George North and Leigh Halfpenny, they didnât quite hit the heights as they can in the championship.
So, what about our leading performers in the Six Nations?
Well, Jamie Roberts and Sam Warburton both had commendable tournaments.
But Roberts missed the entire autumn campaign through ankle damage, while Warburtonâs season has been dislocated by three separate injuries, limiting him to just six outings for the Blues.
If you are looking for a player who has been genuinely consistent for Wales throughout 2013-14, then the one name that does spring to mind is Taulupe Faletau.
In truth, the Dragons No 8 rarely, if ever, has a bad game for his country and has become Mr Reliable.
But whether there have been enough real stand-out efforts along the way to merit the top award, is a matter for debate.
Alun Wyn Jones is another consistent performer, both at international and regional level, with the Lions lock leading by example as skipper of the Ospreys.
And then thereâs the man who arguably delivered the most stand-out displays of all in the big games – Scott Williams.
He was tremendous for the Scarlets in the Heineken Cup and carried that form into the Test arena, taking on the senior centre role in the autumn series in the absence of the crocked Roberts and Jonathan Davies.
Had he not come off second-best in a collision with Brian OâDriscoll at the Aviva Stadium in February, he might well have gone on to nail down the award.
Either way, it has been a season where he has moved up to another level.
Dan Biggar is another leading contender, even though he only started three Tests for Wales.
He has been excellent for the Ospreys, scoring 269 points, while, if anything, his reputation has actually been enhanced through sitting out games for his country.
By the end of the Six Nations, he had been recalled and was an assured hand on the tiller as Scotland were put to the sword, while he is now re-established as Walesâ first-choice No 10 ahead of the tour of South Africa.
Liam Williams picked up the Man of the Match award in that rout, capping an impressive season, while his regional team-mate Ken Owens also grabbed his deserved chance and continues to deliver week-in, week-out.
Itâs been a breakthrough campaign for two more Scarlets, Samson Lee and Jake Ball, who have been rewarded for their bread and butter excellence with their first taste of international rugby, the bearded Ball responding in particularly eye-catching fashion.
And Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb bounced back from serious injury in such impressive style that he supplanted Mike Phillips during the Six Nations.
With Wales having had an up and down time of it, thereâs even an argument for looking outside the Test contingent.
If so, Scarlets scrum-half Gareth Davies deserves a big mention, having topped the Pro12 try chart, while fly-half Owen Williams has made a real name for himself at Leicester.
Itâs all about opinions, of course, and it will be interesting to see who readers go for as their Welsh Player of the Year in our poll.
One final thought. Maybe we should create a separate award for hero of the season, because, if so, there would only be one winner.
What Matthew Rees has achieved in battling against testicular cancer and returning to put himself right in the frame for Walesâ tour of South Africa has been truly remarkable.
He, without doubt, is my man of the season.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/23278085
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