Cardiff Blues wing Tom James was last night backed by Alun-Wyn Jones to be the next young star to burst onto the international stage after being named as the Principality Building Society 'Best Newcomer' in the Premiership.
James made a massive impact at both club and Regional level last season and is currently with the Wales tour party in Australia. He played for Wales Under 20 and the Wales Sevens last season and was voted the Principality Premiership 'Player of the Month' for October.
James follows in the footsteps of Ospreys and Wales second row Jones in winning the award. Like Jones, who was in Argentina with Wales last summer, he was unable to be at the Millennium Stadium presentation night to receive his trophy in person.
"It was a great boost for me to receive this award last season and I know from first-hand experience just how good a prospect Tom is. He is an outstanding talent with a big future," said Jones.
"The Principality Premiership is a great breeding ground for young players and you only have to look at the nominees in the 'Best Newcomer' and 'Player of the Year' categories to see just how many good players there are at this level.
"The Premiership was a vital springboard for my career and I still have to pinch myself when I start thinking about possibly making the Wales Rugby World Cup squad later this year at such an early stage in my career."
While James carried off the 'Best Newcomer' award, Llanelli full back Morgan Stoddard won the 'Player of the Year' title. The Principality Player of the Month Award winner in December, he was headhunted by the Scarlets and played in both the Magners League and Heineken Cup for the Regional side.
"Morgan matured throughout the season and played nine times for the Scarlets during the season. His pace and elusive running marked him out as a threat every time he had the ball and much more is expected of him next season," said Mostyn Richards, WRU elite performance manager.
Ex-England international Alex Codling was voted 'Coach of the Year' after steering Ebbw Vale to the brink of the title. They eventually finished as runners-up to Neath.
Codling, who has taken a teaching post in London and will be switching to London Welsh to act as forwards coach next season, beat off the challenge of Pontypridd's Simon King and Llandovery's Iestyn Thomas.
"Good coaching is vital in the Premiership if we are to make the most of the abundance of young talent here in Wales. The quality of coaching last season was extremely high and the Premiership was far more competitive as a result," said Leighton Morgan, WRU elite coach development manager.
"Alex turned Ebbw Vale into one of the most powerful packs in the division and their tough, uncompromising play brought his side to within one victory of taking the title."
It was a good night for the Steelmen as Ebbw Vale were named as the winners of the 'Fair Play' award for their friendly reception to match officials from club officials and supporters alike, while Neath stalwart Roy Evans picked up the Services to Rugby title after a quarter of a century working behind the scenes at The Gnoll.
As well as a trophy, each winner was presented with a cheque from the Principality Building Society.
Peter Griffiths, chief executive of Principality Building Society, said: "These awards are a chance for us to reflect on a competitive and successful season of the Principality Premiership. The calibre of players this league is producing is testament to the set-up in these sides, including the coaches, managers and everyone who works behind the scenes. We, as Wales' largest building society, are proud to be associated with the Premiership and wish all the teams every success for the next season."
Principality Building Society Award Winners:
BEST NEWCOMER - Tom James (Cardiff)
COACH OF THE YEAR - Alex Codling (Ebbw Vale)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Morgan Stoddard (Llanelli)
SERVICES TO RUGBY - Roy Evans (Neath)
FAIR PLAY AWARD - Ebbw Vale
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. Athletics' loss proved to be rugby's 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 Under 20 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.
JASON TOVEY became Newport's youngest Premiership player and scorer when he made his debut at the start of the season when still only 18. Strong and versatile, he played at centre and full back for the Black and Ambers and scored six tries in 15 games. Already capped by Wales at Under 16, 18 and 19, he has a bright future ahead of him. A Dragons Academy member, he played for Wales Under 18 at full back and went as a replacement to the IRB Under 19 World Championships in April.
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 Under 19 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.
PRINCIPALITY BUILDING SOCIETY COACH OF THE YEAR
ALEX CODLING led Ebbw Vale to second place in the Premiership, their highest finish in the four years of the competition. For long periods of the season the Steelmen were the team to catch and they lost only two and drew one of their 13 games at Eugene Cross Park. As an ex-England second row he developed a pack that was the match of any in the league and one more win would have earned them the title. Alex was voted Clubman of the Year at Ebbw Vale - a fitting tribute after a season of huge improvement at the club. He has returned to a teaching post in London and will act as forwards coach at London Welsh next season.
SIMON KING was nominated for the second season in a row having led Pontypridd to fourth place in the Premiership. The Wales Under 18 coach who led Ponty to Cup glory last season developed a side full of combative spirit at forward and free-flowing endeavour behind the scrum. Pontypridd lost only three games at home in the league, including defeats against Neath and Newport, but were able to win at Rodney Parade. Simon is on his way to Aberavon next season after three years at Sardis Road.
IESTYN THOMAS masterminded one of the victories of the season when Llandovery became the first non-south Wales sides to win the Konica Minolta Cup. That famous victory over Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium was the highlight of Thomas's 20 year association with the Drovers. A former Harlequins, London Welsh, Carmarthen and Llandovery College coach, he has developed a wealth of local talent and now has a top trophy as testament to his efforts. His side's league form left a bit to be desired, although six of their defeats were by one score or less and they beat Pontypridd away and Newport at home.
PRINCIPALITY BUILDING SOCIETY PLAYER OF THE YEAR
JOHN BOWD was the Principality Player of the Month in November and was at the heart of the Ebbw Vale forward effort that earned them their highest finishing position in the league. A former Wales Youth centre, his transfer to the back row has added pace and panache to the forwards. Consistently one of the best players on the field whenever he played, he missed only one league game and captained the side three times.
DAFYDD LOCKYER scored 11 tries for Pontypridd and was a constant menace in the midfield throughout the season. Quick and strong, he always made ground and will leave a big hole to fill when he switches to Neath next season. A former Wales Under 21 cap, he was previously a member of the Blues Academy.
MORGAN STODDARD picked up the Principality Player of the Month Award for December before being headhunted for the Scarlets' regional cause for the remainder of the season. He played nine times or the Regional team, in both Heineken Cup and Magners League, and stood out with his pace and adventure. Scored tries for the Llanelli team as well and is being tipped for big things in the future.