The annual Principality Premiership Presentation night will be held on Thursday night at the Millennium Stadium and two rising stars from the Blues region, Tom James and Sam Warburton, are in the running for the Best Newcomer Award.
The Principality Premiership simply gets better season after season and the 2006/07 campaign was the most keenly contested since the Premiership began in 2003, said WRU Group Chief Executive Roger Lewis.
The Premiership is well represented in Australia with Tom James and Jamie Corsi both waiting to follow in the footsteps of last season's top talent (2006 winner Alun Wyn Jones toured with Wales to Argentina last year). The Premiership is supposed to be the breeding ground for the professional tier in our game and it is fulfilling all its obligations on that front.
Last years Player of the Year award went to Bedwas centre Phil Dolman who has since graduated via the WRU Dragons Academy into the senior Dragons side and has regularly featured in Magners League and European fixtures. Dolman and Wyn Jones will be on hand on Thursday to hand over the awards to 2007 winners, along with Bridgends Chris Stephens who will do the honours for the Coach of the Year award.
There will be five Principality Building Society awards up for grabs on Thursday night:
COACH OF THE YEAR
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
SERVICES TO RUGBY
FAIR PLAY AWARD
Nominations from the Premiership clubs and WRU high performance staff have produced short lists for the following awards:
PRINCIPALITY BUILDING SOCIETY PREMIERSHIP BEST NEWCOMER
TOM JAMES burst onto the Premiership scene this season after moving from his home town club of Merthyr to Cardiff. Athletic's loss proved to be rugbys gain as the former Welsh junior 1500 metre international became an instant hit in blue and black. He was voted Player of the Tournament as Cardiff won the Selkirk Centenary Sevens before the season started and he grabbed 11 tries in the Premiership earning an early season Player of the Month award. More tries would surely have flowed had he not been snapped up by Cardiff Blues to play in both the Heineken Cup and the Magners League. He played for the Wales U20 side and Wales Sevens before capping an incredible year with a late call-up to the Wales squad currently preparing for the second Test in Australia.
SAM WARBURTON is currently taking his A levels at Whitchurch High School, yet was voted the Principality Player of the Month for January after helping the Wanderers beat Bridgend, Bedwas and Maesteg. The 18-year-old was man of the match in all three games. A member of the WRU Blues Academy with outstanding results in fitness and speed, he captained Wales at the IRB U19 World Championships in Belfast in the spring, leading his side to a fourth place finish. A No.8 and flanker who is a commanding presence at the line-out and in the loose, Sam has a big future ahead of him.
Also nominated is JASON TOVEY who became Newports youngest Premiership player and scorer when he made his debut at the start of the season when still only 18.
PRINCIPALITY BUILDING SOCIETY COACH OF THE YEAR
ALEX CODLING Ebbw Vale
SIMON KING Pontypridd
IESTYN THOMAS Llandovery
PRINCIPALITY BUILDING SOCIETY PLAYER OF THE YEAR
JOHN BOWD Ebbw Vale
DAFYDD LOCKYER Pontypridd
MORGAN STODDARD Llanelli
A collection will be held on Thursday night towards Bala RFC's appeal in aid of Bryan Davies, the club stalwart who was paralysed at the end of the season in his final match for the club.
Wales coach Gareth Jenkins has made five changes - two positional - to the side which suffered last-gasp defeat to Australia at the weekend, for the final meeting of the two-Test tour down under.
Gareth Thomas reverts to full-back to win his 94th cap in place of Lee Byrne, Chris Czekaj switches wings and Aled Brew fills the berth he vacates.
Up front hooker Mefin Davies adds 37 caps-worth of experience to the front row in place of UK-bound Matthew Rees - who has returned home for the birth of his child - and Michael Owen replaces Brent Cockbain at lock.
"Mefin will use all his international experience to slot into the front row and pick up where Matthew left off," said Jenkins.
"We are fortunate to be able to call on someone of his international stature.
"Gareth (Thomas) will be able to get more involved in the action from a more central role at full-back and the move also gives us the opportunity to look at Aled Brew who is a hot prospect for us on the wing.
"Michael Owen deserves his chance to start after impressing from the bench last week when Brent (Cockbain) picked up his knock to the head and his ability to play in the second row allows us to keep the back row unit together.
"We have a group of players on the bench who will be able to come on and make an impact if necessary with Robin Sowden-Taylor and Andy Williams adding to a good mix including the Gavin Henson and Ceri Jones who both impressed when given game-time last week."
And Jenkins believes the team that shocked the Wallabies by taking a 17-0 lead in the first Test and getting within 30 seconds of victory, can go one better this Saturday and beat Australia on home turf for the first time in 38 years.
"There were many positives for us to take out of our performance last week and the players will have renewed self belief on Saturday night," said Jenkins.
"Australia too will have undoubtedly learnt lessons and will come after us, but we know now that we do not fear them and we have proved that we have something to offer as well.
"We should have beaten them last week and the only thing that will make that easier for us to bear is to go one better this week and make sure we have more points on the board than them, not just when the hooter goes at the end of the game, but right up until that ball goes dead!"
WALES: Gareth Thomas (Captain); Chris Czekaj, Jamie Robinson, Sonny Parker, Aled Brew; James Hook, Mike Phillips; Iestyn Thomas, Mefin Davies, Adam Jones, Michael Owen, Rob Sidoli, Colin Charvis, Gavin Thomas, Jonathan Thomas