Bristol Bears' centre Piers O’Conor was today acclaimed as “a star in a star-studded team” as he was named Gallagher Premiership Rugby player of the Month for January 2021.
O’Conor was in scintillating form for the Bears in January as his club won all three matches, beating Newcastle Falcons, champions Exeter Chiefs and Bath Rugby to end the month top of the Gallagher Premiership table earning the praise of BT Sport’s Ugo Monye.
“It’s hard to be a star in a star-studded team, but he’s been unbelievable this year,” said Monye, who is also a Gallagher ambassador. “He’s been Mr Consistency this month, not just in terms of what he does in attack but in defence as well. He creates opportunities and takes them as well.
“For me, he’s a proper club man that is woven into the fabric of what it is to be a Bristol Bear - so for him to receive this award is outstanding.
“Considering there were five Bristol Bears nominated for the award for January, to stand head and shoulders above his peers is a wonderful achievement.”
O’Conor’s role at the Bears is often underestimated but Monye’s analysis of the centre reveals his influence on the team: “He’s often the fire-starter for what they do. Piers has got so many strings to his bow, especially in attack, and it’s great to see the Bears using him. The partnership he’s developed with Semi Radradra is quite a devastating one – a real headache for any defensive coach.
“If you want to be able to play the way Bristol Bears play, you have to be versatile and be able to play right across the board.”
Although Covid-19 restrictions prevented a physical presentation of his award, big Bears fan and managing director of Gallagher’s 70-strong team in Bristol, Andy Ferguson, said: “Watching the Bears storm to the top of the table after back-to-back wins in January has been fantastic for all of us fans, especially during such challenging times, and Piers has been instrumental to that success. He’s such a versatile player, able to unlock holes in the opposition’s defence and deliver that difference. A very worthy winner.
“One of the great things about rugby is that it’s a real community sport, even at the elite level, and seeing the Bears riding so high in the Gallagher Premiership is really helping to lift spirits across the city. We can’t wait to get back inside Ashton Gate to show our support as a local business.”
Monye, who won 14 caps for England also suggests that 25-year-old O’Conor could easily come into Test reckoning: “There’s no reason why he can’t be selected for England, he’s quietly going about his business and keeping his head down and doing what he’s doing,” said Monye.
“If he continues to play the way he plays and Bristol keep being involved in big matches towards the end of the season, whether that be in European rugby or Gallagher Premiership Rugby, it’s very hard to ignore players like him.
“That statement victory against Exeter Chiefs was tremendous, and then their biggest ever Gallagher Premiership Rugby win against Bath Rugby - some of the rugby they’ve been playing has brought a lot of warmth and joy to a lot of people in a period where it’s been extremely tough.
“The way that Pat Lam talks about inspiring the community with their rugby, well they’ve done that last month.”
O’Conor – as part of his prize for being named Gallagher Premiership Rugby Player of the Month – wins a shirt signed by the whole Bears squad and framed by Gallagher. He is donating his signed shirt to the Wooden Spoon charity, Bristol, Bath and Somerset division.
O’Conor was judged by a panel of experts as the player who made the biggest impact in Gallagher Premiership Rugby in January 2021.
He was involved in a four-way battle to win the award eventually beating Bristol Bears’ team-mate Semi Radradra, Wasps back Paolo Odogwu and Harlequins outside-half Marcus Smith.
O’Conor was voted for by a panel of media professionals based on his performances in January 2021, alongside a public poll on the Premiership Rugby app, which drew more than 2,500 votes. The judges were: Nick Mullins (BT Sport), Alastair Eykyn (BT Sport), Mick Cleary (The Daily Telegraph), Sarah Mockford (Rugby World), Jonny Fordham (The Sun), Jill Douglas (Broadcaster), Craig Swayne (Fab Rugby), Chris Jones (BBC 5 Live), David Rogers (Getty Images) and Tom Hamilton (ESPN). The panel was chaired by Paul Morgan, Premiership Rugby's Communications Director.
Winners in the 2020-21 season
January - Piers O'Connor (Bristol Bears)
December – Alfie Barbeary (Wasps)
November – Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs)
Winners in the 2019-20 season
August – Jack Willis (Wasps)
May– Paul Hill and Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints)*
April - Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs) *
March – Jamal Ford-Robinson (Gloucester Rugby)*
February – Charles Piutau (Bristol Bears)
January – Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins)
December - Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby)
November – Tom O’Flaherty (Exeter Chiefs)
* Gallagher ran public polls while play was suspended to nominate a ‘Community Player of the Month’ in recognition of inspiring off-pitch performances made by players during lockdown to support their local communities and boost the morale of the wider rugby community.
Winners in the 2018-19 season
April – Francois Hougaard (Worcester Warriors)
March – Santiago Cordero (Exeter Chiefs)
February – Rory Hutchinson (Northampton Saints)
December – Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints)
November – Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
October – Alex Goode (Saracens)
September – Danny Cipriani (Gloucester Rugby)
Winners in the 2017-18 season
April – Vereniki Goneva (Newcastle Falcons)
March – Joe Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs)
February – Jack Willis (Wasps)
December – Josh Adams (Worcester Warriors)
November – Ruan Ackermann (Gloucester Rugby)
October – Jonny May (Leicester Tigers)
September – Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Winners in the 2016-17 season
April – Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby)
March – Christian Wade (Wasps)
February – James Short (Exeter Chiefs)
December – Tom Varndell (Bristol Rugby)
November – Freddie Burns (Leicester Tigers)
October – Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
September – Jimmy Gopperth (Wasps)
Winners in the 2015-16 season
October – Nick Evans (Harlequins)
November – Nathan Hughes (Wasps)
December – Maro Itoje (Saracens)
January – Thomas Waldrom (Exeter Chiefs)
February – George Smith (Wasps)
March – Francois Hougaard (Worcester Warriors)
April – Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints)
Winners in the 2014-15 season
September – Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)
October – Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath Rugby)
November – Thomas Waldrom (Exeter Chiefs)
December – Samu Manoa (Northampton Saints)
January – Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
February – Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
March – Elliot Daly (Wasps)
April – Joe Simpson (Wasps)
Winners in the 2013-14 season
September – Jacques Burger (Saracens)
October – Samu Manoa (Northampton Saints)
November - George Ford (Bath Rugby)
December – Nick Easter (Harlequins)
January – Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
February – Vereniki Goneva (Leicester Tigers)
March – Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks)
April – Chris Ashton (Saracens)
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