Sport Champions Cup

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Best of the Blues

Some of the world’s finest rugby players have worn the Leinster jersey over the years. Ahead of Saturday’s Cardiff showdown, Hugh Farrelly takes a closer look at the province’s greatest players from pre- and post-Heineken Cup eras

There's no doubt Brian O'Driscoll would make the Leinster team of any era.
There's no doubt Brian O'Driscoll would make the Leinster team of any era.

Hugh Farrelly

The advent of the Heineken Cup coincided roughly with the dawn of professionalism in 1995 and the role of the Irish province changed irrevocably.

Rugby has been constantly evolving in the 16 years since, to the point where the game is significantly different in style even compared to the last Heineken Cup final Leinster played in two years ago.

Imagine then, the differences between rugby today and the game that confronted Ollie Campbell's Leinster team in the 1980s, Bill Mulcahy's in the 1960s or Jammie Clinch in the 1920s.

It makes selecting the greatest Leinster team of all time an impossible exercise, with the most logical solution to pick two teams from the amateur and professional -- or pre and post-Heineken Cup -- eras.

Even with 30 names to play with, it becomes immediately apparent that quality players have to be omitted -- men of the calibre of Gordon D'Arcy, Victor Costello, Ronnie Dawson and Freddie McLennan -- testament to the quality of individuals who have worn the blue jersey through the decades.

15 Isa Nacewa

(22 Leinster Heineken Cup appearances, 38 points)

It is incredibly difficult to leave out Girvan Dempsey, who scored 54 points for Leinster over the course of 72 Heineken Cup appearances.

Rob Kearney also merits mention -- although injury affected his contribution to the successful 2009 campaign -- but Nacewa's performances in just 22 European outings have been astonishing and though he has played across the backline, full-back is where the Aucklander has shone brightest.

Shane Horgan

(86 appearances , 138 points)

Unchallenged for the right-wing position where he is set to make his 87th Heineken Cup appearance in Saturday's final, playing as well as he ever has.

13 Brian O'Driscoll

(74 appearances, 153 points)

No contest. Leinster could justifiably retire the No 13 jersey when O'Driscoll eventually hangs up his boots.

12 Felipe Contepomi

(31 appearances, 348 points)

D'Arcy, with a superb European record for the province, is the unlucky one here but this gifted Argentinian has to be accommodated. The 2006 semi-final loss to Munster was a tough experience for Contepomi, but his innate magic lit up Europe during his time with Leinster.

11 Denis Hickie

(54 appearances, 98 points)

The ultimate finisher, whose pace was the scourge of European defences during his 54 appearances. Hickie's performances against Bath and Toulouse in 2006 are part of Leinster folklore.

10 Jonathan Sexton

(21 appearances, 209 points)

Forces Contepomi to inside-centre due to his stunning development since replacing the Puma in the semi-final win over Munster two years ago.

9 Chris Whitaker

(16 appearances, 10 points)

Only made 16 Heineken Cup appearances, but the Australian's calm authority and sterling defence were key components in the 2009 march to glory.

1 Reggie Corrigan

(61 appearances, 5 points)

Cian Healy is heading inexorably for the Leinster Hall of Fame, but Corrigan was an indomitable mainstay in the No 1 jersey for many years, earning international elevation in the process.

2 Shane Byrne

(55 appearances, 20 points)

Like Healy, Richardt Strauss has been a phenomenon this season, but the much-loved 'Mullet' was one of the first names on the Leinster team-sheet for over a decade and successfully straddled the amateur and professional eras.

3 Stan Wright

(27 appearances, 0 points)

Paul Wallace and Mike Ross are two worthy Irish contenders but Wright has put the Cook Islands on the map since he was brought in under Cheika, effective on both sides of the scrum and ebullient on the ball.

4 Leo Cullen

(59 appearances, 5 points)

A natural leader who progressed from athletic No 8 to second-row workhorse with tremendous results and whose return from Leicester, with Shane Jennings, was the catalyst for the forward grit that spawned Leinster's recent successes.

5 Malcolm O'Kelly

(80 appearances, 15 points)

The St Mary's giant grew with the province through the various highs and lows since his debut in the mid-1990s. Nathan Hines has been a superb acquisition but O'Kelly cannot be omitted.

6 Rocky Elsom

(9 appearances, 10 points)

His season with Leinster remains a career high that he has yet to live up to since returning to Australia. The greatest individual contributor to the 2009 title run.

7 Keith Gleeson

(43 appearances, 30 points)

Very difficult to leave out the nous of Jennings, but Gleeson was a class act and the most natural openside to play for Ireland since the days of Nigel Carr.

8 Jamie Heaslip

(43 appearances, 45 points)

Had big shoes to fill when he came in for Costello as a youngster but Heaslip's displays for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions have made him one of the world's elite back-rowers.

Irish Independent

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