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Ireland Team of the Decade

It’s been an incredible decade for Ireland on the pitch, with some stand-out performers and some close calls for a team over the past 10 years, but we have finally decided our team of the decade

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(Photo by Ashley Western/MB Media/Getty Images)

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.

6 Nations

Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby

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Image Credit: London Irish

London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.

The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.

O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011. 

He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017. 

O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation. 

On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.

“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions. 

“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years. 

“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy. 

“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.

“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland. 

“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.

“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old. 

“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport. 

“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.

“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them. 

“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.

“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us. 

“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.

“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career. 

“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey. 

“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family. 

“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years. 

“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.

“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then. 

“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.

“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be. 

“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”

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6 Nations

Ryan And Baird Ruled Out Of Scotland Game. 2 called up.

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Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ireland squad returned to Dublin on Saturday evening following the victory over England at Twickenham and reassembled at Carton House on Sunday evening.

James Ryan will not be considered for selection this week and his return to rugby protocols will be supervised by the Leinster Medical Team. Ryan Baird is ruled out of the final fixture of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations with a back issue.

Uncapped locks Ross Molony and Joe McCarthy have been called up to train with the squad. Ross has been involved in Ireland squads since the summer of 2021 while Joe, a former Ireland U20 player, made his Leinster debut against Cardiff in January having impressed for Dublin University in the Energia AIL.

Robert Baloucoune, Nick Timoney and Mike Lowry all return after lining out for Ulster in the URC against Leinster at the weekend.

Ireland play Scotland in the final round of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championship on Saturday 19th March at 4.45pm. The game is being televised by Virgin (ROI) and ITV (NI).

Ireland Squad Round 5 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championships

Backs (16)
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 36 caps
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) 2 caps
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 31 caps
Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) 11 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 5 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 30 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 16 caps
Mack Hansen (Connacht) 3 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 56 caps
James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) 3 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 19 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 11 caps
Michael Lowry (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 95 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 41 caps
Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 104 caps CAPTAIN

Forwards (19)
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 22 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 29 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 26 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 2 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 16 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 56 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 115 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 6 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 67 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 25 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 47 caps
Jeremy Loughman (Munster/Garryowen) uncapped
Joe McCarthy (Leinster/Dublin) uncapped
Ross Molony (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 83 caps
Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 6 caps
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) 2 caps
Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 4 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 39 caps

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6 Nations

Johnny Sexton Signs Contract Extension to 2023 Rugby World Cup

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Photo Credit - Irish Rugby

Ireland and Leinster out-half Johnny Sexton has signed a contract extension up until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

In November Johnny earned his 100th cap for Ireland against Japan and played a pivotal role in Ireland’s third defeat of New Zealand. He hit the milestone of 500 Six Nations Championship points against Wales in Round 1 of this year’s tournament and has represented Ireland on 103 occasions to date.

The former World Player of the Year was appointed Ireland captain by Andy Farrell in January 2020 and has led the team to ten victories in his 13 game tenure as the on field general.

Johnny made his international debut against Fiji in November 2009 and has represented Ireland at three Rugby World Cups (2011, 2015 & 2019). Johnny is a two time Lions tourist (2013 & 2017) and has won three Six Nations titles with Ireland and five European Cups with Leinster. He has represented his provinces on 178 occasions, scoring 1549 points.

David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented: “Johnny’s performances continue to be of the highest standard and he remains an integral member of the Ireland and Leinster squads.  He has always been a leader on the field and in the past two years since taking on the Ireland captaincy his leadership off it has been top class. Johnny is a generational player and we are delighted that he has extended to 2023.”

 Johnny Sexton, commented: “I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract.  There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then.”

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