Pienaar up for top gong
Following the conclusion of the pool stages of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup, the ERC have announced the longlist for this season's prestigious European Player of the Year award.
Selected by a distinguished panel of rugby experts, the longlist for one of the most prized individual accolades in the game includes 15 players from the 44 clubs competing in the 2012/13 tournaments.
The beginning of the search to select a successor to Leinster's Rob Kearney, who won the ERC European Player of the Year award last season, was based on player performances during the pool stages of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Wesley Fofana of Clermont, Harlequins full-back Mike Brown, Owen Farrell of Saracens and Ulster's Ruan Pienaar who made last year's longlist, are included again.
The Judging Panel will also have the option to consider additional players who make major contributions during the knockout stages of both tournaments before announcing a five-man shortlist following the semi-finals with the overall winner named directly after the ERC European club finals in Dublin next May.
In addition to 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 nominated on the ERC European Player of the Year 2013 shortlist while supporters can also have their say on Twitter using #ERCPlayer2013, and on the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup Facebook pages.
The Judging Panel for this season's award is: Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports), Will Greenwood (Daily Telegraph, World Cup winner and two-time Challenge Cup winner), Stephen Jones (Rugby Correspondent, Sunday Times), Emmanuel Massicard (Editor, Midi Olympique) and Gerry Thornley (Rugby Correspondent, Irish Times).
ERC European Player of the Year 2013 Longlist
(Based on performances in the pool stages)
Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
Rory Best (Ulster)
Julien Bonnaire (Clermont)
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
Owen Farrell (Saracens)
Wesley Fofana (Clermont)
Mamuka Gorgodze (Montpellier)
Charlie Hodgson ((Saracens)
James Johnston (Harlequins)
Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)
Morgan Parra (Clermont)
Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)
Ruan Pienaar (Ulster)
Simon Zebo (Munster)
ERC European Player of the Year 2013 longlist form guide:
Steffon Armitage: Since his move to Toulon has developed into one of the most feared opensides in the European game. Hugely impressive in the Cote d'Azur club's run to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and appeared in all six pool matches making four try assists, the joint highest in the tournament.
Rory Best: The heartbeat of Ulster who are looking to go one better than last season in the Heineken Cup. Intelligent, combative and consistent. Quite simply one of the most complete hookers in rugby. Only two other hookers have delivered more successful lineout throws than Best (64) this season.
Julien Bonnaire: Still one of Europe's most outstanding back rows at the age of 34. May be retired from international rugby, but has been brilliant in a series of strong Clermont pool stage performances making 69 tackles this season, only three other men have made more.
Mike Brown: A rock under the high ball and dynamic going forward in all six pool games among the top ten metre makers, Brown has been superb yet again as unbeaten Harlequins target another European title.
Dan Cole: A central cog of the Tigers' powerful forward force in the Pool stage having locked down the number three jersey in a very competitive squad. Completed 29/33 tackles in the Pool campaign.
Owen Farrell: Mature way beyond his years at 21, Farrell has been a key figure yet again this season for Saracens and his magnificent haul of 10 penalties in the vital away Round 5 game against Racing Metro is now a tournament record. Kicked 25 goals in the pool stages and was the second top points scorer (75).
Wesley Fofana: The coming midfield player in world rugby. Blessed with outrageous acceleration, Fofana picks some glorious lines as part of a hugely talented Clermont back division. Four tries in five pool appearances and leading player in the Amlin Opta Index pre Round 6.
Mamuka Gorgodze: Quite literally a massive influence on Montpellier's advance to the last eight of the Heineken Cup this season. Muscular and painfully direct, Gorgodze appeared in five pool matches and contributed 15 points.
Charlie Hodgson: A cerebral playmaker at No 10. A shrewd tactician with an eye for the gap, he has contributed 45 points in the pool stage including two tries and four try assists.
James Johnston: Under Harlequins' expert guidance, the Samoan international has become a top-class tight head. The immovable object in the Pool 3 winners' scrum, Johnston played in five Heineken Cup games this season.
Joe Launchbury: One of the rising stars in Europe, Launchbury's outstanding form for England last autumn has been replicated during London Wasps' progress into the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
Morgan Parra: The conductor of Clermont's pitch-perfect orchestra. Calls the shots for his side in the tradition of dominant French No 9s and the leading scorer in the Heineken Cup pool stage with 90 points from six matches.
Geoff Parling: Leicester Tigers have produced a number of half-decent second rows in their history, and Parling now fully deserves a mention among the best. Impressive organiser, strong line-out presence and an ever-present in the Heineken Cup this season. Took 34 lineout catches in the pool stages, more than any other player.
Ruan Pienaar: There are few half-backs in world rugby who appear to have as much time as the talented South African. More effective at scrum half than No 10, he has been superb in every facet for Ulster. Only four players produced more kicks in play than Pienaar (56) in the pool stage.
Simon Zebo: A coiled spring of exuberant talent. The hugely promising Zebo made his European mark last season with a hat-trick in Round 6 of the Heineken Cup against Northampton Saints and he repeated the feat last weekend to ensure Munster's qualification. Only two other players have score more tries in the Heineken Cup.