It’s been an amazing decade in Irish rugby and there are some massive calls in making a team over the past ten years, but we have come to make our starting XV.
There have been three Six Nations triumphs, with a Grand Slam coming in 2018 and while the team could not make it past the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, they did manage to not only get a historic first win over the All Blacks, but followed it up with a second on home soil.
Along with that they picked up wins in South Africa as well as a series win in Australia last year, and became the number one team in the World Rankings earlier this year for the first time too.
It’s incredible to think about how far the side has come, and as we head into a new decade and a new era under head coach Andy Farrell, here is a quick look back at the best XV for the last decade.
Full-Back: Rob Kearney
An easy decision! Kearney has been a mainstay in the Ireland set-up for pretty much the entire decade. He started the decade as a hard-running, powerful 15, and has adapted his game recently as age begins to show. At 33, he was left out of Ireland’s recent “stocktake” but don’t be surprised to see him add to his 95 international caps. His quality in the air is sensational and he still has a lot to offer.
Right-Wing: Tommy Bowe
He went into the decade on the back of helping Ireland to a historic Grand Slam in 2009 and carried through his fine form into the decade. Although injury hampered him Bowe managed to score an amazing 150-points in just 69 appearances for the men in green. His biggest moments might have come before the start of the decade, but nobody can really rival him for the number 14 jersey over the past 10 years.
Outside-Centre: Brian O’Driscoll
Seen by many as Ireland’s greatest player ever and by some as the greatest player to have play the game making it impossible to leave him out of the team. He may have lost some of his speed around the pitch in his later years, but he always seemed to put in a performance when in the Irish jersey. His in-game intelligence and leadership on the pitch saw him help Ireland to their 2014 Six Nations win and cement his legacy as the best around.
Inside-Centre: Gordon D’Arcy
Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki were close contenders, but O’Driscoll’s centre partner gets the nod as he just made Ireland click. His defensive abilities along with the spark he had in attack made him one of the best in his position.
Left-Wing: Keith Earls
The Munster man has gone on to become one of Ireland’s mainstays since his debut in 2008, racking up 82-caps and scoring 30 tries in that time. Some may put in Jacob Stockdale ahead of him, but Earls’ consistency in the 10-years gets him a spot in our team.
Out-Half: Johnny Sexton
The only man that could be named here, Sexton has been incredible throughout the decade and was recognised by winning World Rugby Player of the Year in 2018. His importance to the team has been there for all to see when he has been absent in the line-up and could be named as captain by Farrell as we head into the Six Nations as he is what makes Ireland tick.
Scrum-Half: Conor Murray
Having made his debut in 2011 Murray has been the first-choice No 9 ever-since and has come up with some vital tries over that time as well as stepping in as a place-kicker upon occasion. He hasn’t been in top form recently and could lose his starting spot heading into the next decade, but during the 10’s he was No 1.
Loosehead Prop: Cian Healy
Arguably the best in his position worldwide at times in the past 10-years, Healy’s physicality and ability on the ball has seen him dominate in open and set-play. He has rebuilt himself following serious injuries and has fought back to become Ireland’s first-choice once again and at 32 he could still have a big part to play in the foreseeable future.
Hooker: Rory Best
With 124-caps to his name Best has been ever-present this century before calling time on his rugby career earlier this year. He captained the side upon many occasions and was the ultimate leader and gentleman both on and off the pitch. He was asked to continue playing at club-level by many clubs, but decided he had done his fair share and who could argue with the Irish great.
Tighthead Prop: Tadhg Furlong
Despite not being in the team for a large part of the decade, since he has been in the Irish fold he has been incredible. His handling skills for such a big man are just amazing and he has gone on to become arguably the best tighthead in the world. With 41-caps to his name already, there is no doubt that Furlong will ease past the 50-cap make soon enough and at 27, who knows how far he can go if he stays at the top of his game.
Lock: Devin Toner
It was a toss-up between Toner and James Ryan, but for this decade Toner gets into our team. Ryan has been immense since his arrival on the international scene and nailed on to become a future Irish captain, but Toner has been crucial to Ireland for large parts of the decade. His importance to the team was there for all to see during the World Cup when he wasn’t selected, but he has since gone on to be recalled following some brilliant performances for Leinster.
Lock: Paul O’Connell
The ultimate leader! Despite retiring in 2015 O’Connell just has to be in this team as he was crucial to helping Ireland become the dominant force they are today. Deserved a better send off than he got after being forced to retire due to injury, but will always go down as one of the greats.
Blindside-Flanker: Peter O’Mahony
Ever-present in the Irish set-up since his debut in 2012 and a contender for the captaincy under Farrell. He has already captained his country as well as Munster and the British and Irish Lions and is one of the best defensive players in the game. A constant threat at the breakdown, O’Mahony will hope to add to his 64-caps to date come the new year.
Openside-Flanker: Sean O’Brien
One of the most destructive players the game has ever seen, but was simply unfortunate with injury which meant he was unable to cement a place as an Irish legend, but he deserves a place in this team. When he wasn’t injured O’Brien could beat even the best and showed that during the 2017 Lions Tour.
Number 8: Jamie Heaslip
CJ Stander has a case to be included, but Heaslip gets in ahead of him due to his sheer brilliance while in the squad. He was able in both attack and defence and a fan favourite, making 95 appearances for the Irish team. He was a forward that had a spark to him that made him stand-out and would walk into most teams when in top-form.
Munster Confirm Three New Signings
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm the signing of Oli Jager from the Crusaders with the tighthead prop signing a contract until the summer of 2027.
Hooker Eoghan Clarke is rejoining Munster on a short-term contract with back three player Colm Hogan also returning on a short-term deal.
Jager will join the province in the coming weeks with his contract beginning at the start of December.
Born in London, Jager started out at Naas RFC before playing schools rugby at Newbridge College and Blackrock College. He lined out for the Ireland U18 Schools team in 2013 before moving to Canterbury in New Zealand at the age of 17.
Initially attending the Crusaders International High Performance Unit, he earned a place in the Crusaders Academy in 2014. After impressing with New Brighton RFC, he earned a place in the Canterbury squad for the Mitre 10 Cup in 2016.
Jager made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2017 and has been a key member of their squad for the past seven years, winning seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.
Eoghan Clarke spent three years in the Munster Academy before departing for Jersey Reds in March 2021. A former Ireland U20 international, Clarke won the English Championship with Jersey Reds last season before the club went into liquidation last month.
Colm Hogan, who has lined out for Ireland U20 and Munster A in the past, played his schools rugby with Glenstal Abbey. He captained Dublin University in the AIL and also had a spell with Colomiers in the PRO D2 while studying in France.
The 26-year-old played for Leinster against Chile last year and lined out with recent Munster arrival Alex Nankivell for Tasman Mako in the NPC this year.
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Key All Black announces sabbatical to play in Japan
All Blacks captain Sam Cane will take up a sabbatical option in his New Zealand Rugby (NZR) contract in 2024 to play a season for Suntory in Japan League One.
The 31-year-old, 95-Test loose forward will miss the 2024 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season with the Chiefs, but will return to New Zealand in June to be available for selection to the All Blacks for the 2024 Steinlager Series and Rugby Championship campaign.
Cane, who is contracted to NZR through to the end of 2025, said he was looking forward to experiencing a new playing environment with Suntory and learning more about a new culture in Japan.
“When the opportunity to play for Suntory in 2024 came up it felt like the right time following the Rugby World Cup to try something new and also a great chance to continue to grow and learn in my rugby and life journey. I’m grateful to New Zealand Rugby for their support to take this opportunity.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to skip a season with the Chiefs, but I know the team is in a great place and has an incredible group of leaders in the squad and the coaching group to have a successful 2024, and I’m really pleased to be able to return in time to put my best foot forward for selection in the All Blacks.”
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said:
“Sam’s decision to take a sabbatical in 2024 has our full support and we wish him and his family all the best for their time in Japan. There are very few players who have given as much as he has to the jerseys he’s worn in his career to date and it’s a mark of his commitment to the All Blacks that he will return and make himself available for the Test season.”
Gallagher Chiefs Head Coach Clayton McMillan said:
“Sam has given everything to this team on and off the field and deserves to take this opportunity to experience something different. He is an exceptional player and influential leader who has been an integral part of the Gallagher Chiefs for many years. We wish him and his family all the best and hope they enjoy their time in Japan after a full-on year.”
Key All Black commits to Gallagher Chiefs until 2025
Dominant loose forward Luke Jacobson has extended his contract with the Gallagher Chiefs, Waikato and New Zealand Rugby until the end of 2025.
The 18-test All Black was a consistent starter for the Gallagher Chiefs this year and a key element of their outstanding DHL Super Rugby Pacific performances. He consequently went on to be named in the All Blacks squad to travel to France.
Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan is delighted to have Jacobson sticking around for another two seasons.
“Luke is an outstanding player; he’s a workhorse, a consistent performer and considered a real warrior within our group. Luke leads by example both on and off the field. He isnt one to waste words and prefers to let his actions speak for themself. In the absence of some senior players who have moved on, I have no doubt Luke will play an integral part providing the leadership and guidance our younger players will be looking for”.
Jacobson has impressed throughout his career, playing for the New Zealand U20s team twice and captaining them in his second season to win the 2017 U20 World Championship title. This aptitude for leadership has seen him pull on the Gallagher Chiefs captain’s armband on multiple occasions.
Waikato Rugby head coach Ross Filipo is excited about Luke extending his career with Waikato. “He is a great man and a great leader who continues to make huge contributions on and off the field and always represents the region with pride.”
Speaking on his signing Jacobson said: “I’m stoked to signing on with the Waikato, Chiefs and NZR for another two years. I love representing these teams and am very proud to be able to call myself a Waikato/Chiefs man and also and All black. I’m hungry to succeed with these teams and tick off a few unticked boxes.”
The 2024 Gallagher Chiefs squad will be named later this year ahead of assembling for pre-season training.