Selecting the Greatest Ever Ireland XV

Danny CoyleFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2013

Selecting the Greatest Ever Ireland XV

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    Ireland’s rugby history is punctuated with moments of glory rather than littered.

    When they have triumphed, their sides have been laden with some of the greatest names the game has ever seen.

    Choosing the men to make up this XV requires us to look for talent, success and Lions involvement. So, here is my selection on those grounds.

Full Back

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    Rob Kearney

    It is tempting to scroll back to the likes of Hugo MacNeill and Tom Kiernan to fill the No. 15 jersey, but Kearney takes this. He has speed, strength, wonderful ability in the air and an enormous boot. In a team far more talented than those of the previous eras, Kearney still sticks out as one of its key components.

Wings

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    Tony O’Reilly

    O’Reilly won 29 caps for Ireland between 1955 and 1970. His legend was firmly established by his feats as a Lion and as Barbarian. For the Lions, across two tours, he notched up 37 tries, which still stands as a record that is unlikely to be broken given the brevity of tours these days compared to in the '50s. He also scored 38 tries in 30 appearances for the Baa Baas. 

     

    Simon Geoghan

    With his bright blond hair and lighting speed, Geoghan stood out in the Irish sides of the '90s as one of the few players they possessed who could get the fans off their seats. He was aggressive, hungry for work and a genuine threat to even the fastest wings he came across. He was a joy to watch.

Centres

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    Mike Gibson

    Gibson is often cited as the greatest Irish player of all time. His Ireland career spanned some 16 years, and he was part of the 1971 Lions side that defeated New Zealand, one of five tours he went on.

    In Huw Baines’ profile of Gibson on espnscrum.com, he describes Gibson as “a modern player in all senses of the word. His understanding of angles and his uncanny ability to release the ball into space could unpick even the toughest of defences, and he surely would have enjoyed the challenged of modern day rush defence.”

     

    Brian O’Driscoll

    As O’Driscoll counts down to the end of his illustrious playing career, the only question is "What will Ireland and Leinster do without him?"

    From the fresh-faced kid who ran riot in Paris in 2000, scoring a hat-trick on his first visit, to the captain of the Lions in 2005.

    He was cruelly robbed of that job by the controversial treatment he received at the hands of Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga, but he enjoyed happier times as the leader of the Irish side that claimed its first Grand Slam since 1948.

Half Backs

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    9. Peter Stringer

    Stringer was not given the credit he deserved during his playing days and was unfortunate never to get a sniff of a Lions tour. His rocket-like pass kept a healthy supply line to a set of backs that developed into a world-class unit during his time in the No. 9 jersey. An honourable mention must go to Colin Patterson who toured with the Lions in the 1980s.

     

    10. Ollie Campbell

    In November 2013 Ollie Campbell was named No. 10 in a list of the greatest fly-halves of all time compiled by The Times. He played 22 times for Ireland and won seven caps for the Lions. He was part of the Triple Crown winning side of 1982. He edges the great Jack Kyle—the captain of the 1948 Grand Slam team, and modern-day great Ronan O'Gara, who was the fulcrum of their recent success, but had an inferior running game to Campbell.

Back Row

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    6. David Wallace

    Wallace was an outstanding link man between forwards and backs. The Munster man also brought huge physicality to his role. Despite starring as a No. 7, he could play anywhere across the back row and he makes it into this trio at blindside. Wallace toured with the Lions in 2009 and was part of the Grand Slam Irish side of the same year.

     

    7. Fergus Slattery

    Slattery gained 61 caps at openside flanker for Ireland and led them to the triple crown in 1982. Before that, he appeared in the Victorious Lions tours of 1971 and 1974, and also skippered Ireland to 2-0 series win over the Wallabies in Australia. Slattery was fast and agile, he terrorised the hell out of opposition fly-halves, tackled hard and was able to link up well with his back line. 

     

    8. Anthony Foley

    Anthony Foley led Munster to their long-awaited Heineken Cup triumph in 2006. Arguably, his performances for Munster earned his more kudos than his Ireland career, but 62 caps at the back of the scrum point to a successful career. A bludgeon of a runner and wonderful tackler, he kept an Irish side moving forward when their scrum sometimes struggled.

Second Row

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    Paul O’Connell

    O’Connell has been in and around the world's top four or five second rows for the last decade. Imperious in the lineout, a wonderful mauling forward and with a huge appetite for ball carrying, he epitomises the modern lock forward.

    Alongside that, he is a born leader of men. He captained the 2009 Lions, having toured in 2005 for the first time. He was also first choice in the first test of the 2013 Lions series, but a broken arm ruled him out of the rest of the Tests.

     

    Willie John McBride

    Willie John McBride was bank manager from Ulster who became a legend. He first played for Ireland in 1962 and went on to become captain of the famous Lions side who went unbeaten in South Africa in 1974. His leadership was exemplary, his attitude ferocious.

Front Row

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    1. Gerry McLoughlin

    McLoughlin was a tough, uncompromising character who toured with the Lions in 1983 and was part of the Munster side in 1978 who beat the All Blacks. He also scored a famous try against England as Ireland marched to the 1982 Triple Crown.

     

    2. Keith Wood

    Wood is one of the greatest hookers world rugby has ever seen, certainly one of the best of the modern era. His sold work at line-out, and scrum was accompanied by an array of skills and speed no other hooker could match. He had a great nose for the try line, scoring 15 tries in his 58-cap career, and could also kick the ball well when he was required to do so.

    Wood was one of the key figures in the 1997 Lions side that defeated South Africa, and he was still first choice for the Lions when they toured Australia four years later when his performance in the first Test was one of his best at international level.

     

    3. Paul Wallace

    Wallace really earned his fame for his performances against the mighty Os du Randt on the 1997 Lions tour. As the smaller man, Wallace had to summon every ounce of ability and strength to get the better of the huge South African.

    For Ireland he won 42 caps and is part of an Irish rugby dynasty alongside brothers Richard and David.