Reflecting the season that was in it, Irish players and in particular those from Leinster, along with their head coach Leo Cullen, dominated Tuesday night's 2018 Guinness Pro14 Awards in Glasgow.
Cullen was chosen as the coach of the season by his fellow coaches after guiding Leinster to last season's Pro14 title, thus augmenting the province's European Champions Cup success, while Jordan Larmour won the young player of the season, and Barry Daly was recognised as the championship's top try scorer for last season after scoring a dozen tries in just 11 starts and four appearances off the bench.
In addition, five Leinster players were voted onto the Pro14 dream team, namely Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy, Jack Conan, James Lowe and Larmour. Scarlets also had five players nominated, including Munster recruit Tadhg Beirne, while the only other Irish player is former Leinster man, Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney.
Over 75 media (including former players and coaches) were involved in the voting for the dream team, and to be eligible players had to have made at least nine appearances in the 2017/18 season.
Even the players’ player of the season was won by the former Leinster player Beirne, who this season will line out for Munster, and who was overwhelmingly chosen by his fellow peers in recognition of his performances for last season’s beaten finalists the Scarlets.
Having been an integral part of their title success the year before, the versatile Beirne played in 22 of the Scarlets' 23 Pro14 games, starting all but one of them, winning more turnovers (37) than any other player in the competition and making the second-most tackles in the Scarlets squad (163). Beirne then made his first two appearances for Ireland off the bench in the 2-1 Test series win in Australia in June.
Beirne had been shortlisted along with Hadleigh Parkes, his Scarlets teammate last season, and Leinster's Lowe, while Cullen was chosen ahead of Richard Cockerill, who oversaw Edinburgh's revival, and Kieran Crowley at Benetton Rugby.
Larmour was also a deserving winner of the young player of the year award ahead of two other outside backs who broke into test rugby last season, Edinburgh's Blair Kinghorn and Matteo Minozzi of Zebre, as well as the 22-year-old Cardiff out-half Jarrod Evans.
The 21-year-old Larmour left an indelible mark on last season’s competition, scoring eight Pro14 tries in his rookie campaign, including memorable solo efforts from distance in the derby wins away to Ulster and Munster, and that breathtaking one-handed scoop on the run to seal Leinster’s win in the final over the Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium.
In 11 starts and five appearances off the bench, Larmour also made 19 clean breaks, beat 51 defenders and had five try assists, and while Kinghorn's figures were not too far behind (including five tries in 16 starts), in truth Minozzi made a much bigger impression for Italy than he did for Zebre in the Pro14.
All told 10 award winners were recognised along with the dream team at the season launch party at the Argyle Street Arches in Glasgow on Monday night.
A couple of new awards were introduced, including the Pro14 tackle machine award. Players who made 200 successful tackles or more were eligible and the award was given to the player with the highest completion percentage, and Olly Robinson of the Cardiff Blues made a total of 243 tackles with a tackle completion rate of 94.6 per cent.
Another was the Ironman Award, which went to Giulio Bisegni of Zebre Rugby Club, who was the player who accumulated the most minutes (1504) on the pitch across the 21 regular season rounds last season. Former Toyota Cheetahs' fly-half Fred Zeilinga, who has joined the Canon Eagles in Japan, won the Gilbert Golden Boot award.
Former Dragons backrow Ed Jackson received the chairman's award in recognition of his recovery from a serious spinal injury and subsequent charity work. Jackson was forced to retire from the game last year at the age of 29 and has since recovered to the point where he has climbed Mount Snowdon in Wales for charity. Jackson was presented with his award by Gerald Davies CBE, chairman of the Pro14, who commended him for his terrific spirit in the face of adversity.
Pro14 2017/18 award winners:
Players' player of the season: Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets)
Coach of the season: Leo Cullen (Leinster)
Young player of the season: Jordan Larmour (Leinster)
Chairman's award: Ed Jackson (Dragons)
Golden boot award: Fred Zeilinga (Cheetahs)
Dream team captain: Callum Gibbins (Glasgow Warriors)
Top try scorer: Barry Daly (Leinster)
Tackle machine: Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Ironman: Giulio Bisegni (Zebre)
Fair play award: Scarlets
Pro14 dream team:
Backs – 15 Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh); 14 Jordan Larmour (Leinster), 13 Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors), 12 Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), 11 James Lowe (Leinster); 10 Rhys Patchell (Scarlets), 9 John Cooney (Ulster).
Forwards – 1 Rob Evans (Scarlets), 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (Cheetahs), 3 Andrew Porter (Leinster), 4 Scott Fardy (Leinster), 5 Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets), 6 Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), 7 Callum Gibbins (Glasgow Warriors) Captain, 8 Jack Conan (Leinster).