Wednesday 21 February 2018

Ireland's best XV v The Rest

David Kelly indulges in a little fantasy rugby and picks glittering Irish and Overseas XVs from the continent's premier competition

The Irish XV

15 Geordan Murphy (Leicester)

ERC honours: Heineken Cup winner 2001 and 2002; Elite 50 caps: 74; Elite 25 tries: 25

Heineken Cup matches: 74

The Rolls-Royce of full-backs, Murphy's first two final appearances were

actually on the wing, from where he scored in the 2002 decider against Munster when his side became the first to compile back-to-back wins. Strike-rate of one in three, he is sixth on the all-time try-scoring list.

14 Shane Horgan (Leinster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2009, 2011; Elite 50 Caps: 87; Elite 25 tries: 27

Heineken Cup matches: 87

Debuted in the 1998 season against Llanelli in Stradey Park. Compiled both winners' medals despite being surplus to requirements with the national side. Fourth on the all-time try-scoring list.

In our humble view, his finest hour was in the classic final comeback in 2011, when he was one of the few to perform creditably in the shambolic opening half.

13 Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2009, 2011, 2012; Elite 50 caps: 82; Elite 25 tries: 32

Heineken Cup matches: 82

Where to start. The record number of tries? Spilling his guts after scoring a Lansdowne try from half-way? The knee surgery eight days before a final success against Ulster? That special try against Cardiff? We recall a day in Edinburgh in the 2008-09 season when he tested his frail hamstrings, his uncertain mind and freed himself of all doubts. Leinster's domination of Europe was just around the corner.

12 Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2009, 2011, 2012; Elite 50 Caps: 91; Elite 25 tries: 26

Heineken Cup matches: 91

Formed the most enduring midfield

partnership in European club rugby for more than a decade alongside O'Driscoll and his combative aggression, stern defence and eye for the break with those furious little legs pumping by the millimetre were key to his side's success. Durability demonstrated by his fifth place on both the all-time try-scoring and appearance list.

11 Denis Hickie (Leinster)

ERC Honours: Elite 50 caps: 54

Heineken Cup matches: 54

A rarity in our list in that Hickie never laid his hands on the trophy, retiring just before Leinster made their breakthrough in 2009. However, since debuting in a winless campaign in 1996/97, Hickie's fingerprints were writ large on their steady progress. A regular scorer -- exactly one in three -- his highlight was a stunning finish in the seminal 2006 quarter-final in Toulouse.

10 Ronan O'Gara (Munster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2006, 2008; Elite 50 caps: 110

Heineken Cup matches: 110

No contest. With a points title that will remain unchallenged for years to come -- his nearest rival is only the 700-odd behind him -- O'Gara was central to Munster's ultimately successful quest for the Holy Grail. Shrugged off the disappointment of a missing a potentially winning kick against Northampton in 2000 to steer his side to glory.

9 Eoin Reddan (Munster, Wasps, Leinster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2007, 2011, 2012; Elite 50 caps: 59 (2 with Munster,

25 with Wasps, 32 with Leinster)

Heineken Cup matches: 59

A member of European rugby's most exclusive club -- only Philippe Carbonneau (Toulouse and Brive), Cedric Heymans (Brive and Toulouse), Federico Mendez (Bath and Northampton) and Reddan have tasted final glory with two different clubs. His role in Wasps' victory -- remember their line-out scoring strategy? -- was crucial.

1 Cian Healy (Leinster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2009, 2011, 2012

Heineken Cup matches: 43

Munster's Marcus Horan blazed the trail, but Healy's impact on Leinster's three final successes in four years makes him the stand-out choice and he has developed a reputation as one of the most feared opponents in the European cauldron. And there's much more to come, too.

2 Jerry Flannery (Munster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner

2006, 2008

Heineken Cup matches: 33

The outstanding Irish hooker in the competition, Flannery was a key component of the Munster front-row that carved a special niche for themselves with their double success. Made his debut in a winning quarter-final and standards never dipped. Sadly, injury blighted his latter days.

3 John Hayes (Munster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2006, 2008; Elite 50 caps: 101

Heineken Cup matches: 101

Wherever the Heineken Cup was played, it was the Bull's field. One of only two players to make more than 100 appearances in the competition, Hayes was the crucial cornerstone of the Munster scrum for more than a decade. As a line-out lifter, his prowess is unlikely to be matched.

4 Leo Cullen (Leinster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2009, 2011, 2012; Elite 50 caps: 87 (75 with Leinster, 12 with Leicester)

Heineken Cup matches: 87

The only player to captain a club to three titles, Cullen left Leinster in despair as his home province slid into dilettantish decline. Absorbing the lessons of the hardened Leicester culture, he returned to help Leinster copy the midlanders. Their role of honour is testament to his inordinate influence.

5 Paul O'Connell (Munster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2006, 2008; Elite 50 caps: 68

Heineken Cup matches: 68

If anything demonstrated O'Connell's ability to rally his troops, then last year's Harlequins ambush typified the man; it was as if he were the head of a leonine family as he dragged his cubs into an unlikely last four berth. Simply the best.

6 Trevor Brennan (Leinster, Toulouse)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2003, 2005; Elite 50 caps: 57 (22 with Leinster, 35 with Toulouse)

Heineken Cup matches: 57

A trailblazer for Irish rugby players long after the initial flood of wild geese left the country when professionalism caught the IRFU by surprise. Brennan's departure was forced by different circumstances -- much of it ignorance -- but the former Leixlip milkman had the last laugh, forging a career with one of Europe's most legendary outfits.

7 David Wallace (Munster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2006, 2008; Elite 50 caps: 86

Heineken Cup matches: 86

Wallace was the outstanding Irish back-row forward for more than a decade; it seems impossible to leave out current Leinster heroes Heaslip and O'Brien, but someone has to call it! Scored in the 2000 final before tasting double success.

8 Anthony Foley (Munster)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2006, Elite 50 caps: 86

Heineken Cup matches: 86

Heaslip and O'Brien may have won three times as many Heineken Cup trophies, but can anyone seriously argue with the disproportionate influence one man had on an Irish province in Europe? Foley simply was Munster. He was the Heineken Cup. Only missed one game before finally lifting the crown in '06 in his first season as captain. Without much fuss, he was eased out before Munster won their second; his influence was still writ large, though. Holds record for most tries scored by a forward (23, including a hat-trick).

The overseas XV

15 Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2003, 2005, 2010; Elite 50 caps: 79

Heineken Cup matches: 79

The mercurial genius is sadly recalled by many neutrals and non-rugby enthusiasts as the guilty party in the 2004 final, when his late defensive howler allowed Rob Howley to pounce for a dramatic winning try. Few remember his team-mates coughed up try-scoring chances created by him to have won the match by then. A dilettante supreme and we love him. Such grace.

14 Emile Ntamack (Toulouse)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 1996, 2003

Heineken Cup matches: 49

A personal favourite, but we could have had so many others, beginning with his clubmate Cedric Heymans. Ntamack was the first player to score a try in the tournament back in 1995 and then the first to lift the trophy when Toulouse triumphed over Cardiff. Love the way he staved off retirement to have another go in 2004. A class finisher and stylish runner.

13 Yannick Jauzion (Toulouse)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2003, 2005, 2010; Elite 50 caps: 79 (4 with Colomiers, 75 with Toulouse)

Heineken Cup matches: 79

Sure, it's nearly all Toulouse in the three-quarters but could you blame us? The Brian O'Driscoll of French rugby, Jauzion was man of the match in the 2005 final success and he was the fulcrum of everything conjured by the dazzling speedsters around him. Jauzion was the arch-magician; such hands and delicate touch and that gliding run.

12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont)

ERC Honours: None

Heineken Cup matches: 22

Another personal choice; Fofana hasn't won the trophy yet, unlike many of the other glittering names in this XV, but he has been the most audacious three-quarters to have lit up the Heineken Cup in the past few seasons, coinciding with Clermont's emergence as a major European force. Both deserve to dine at the top table.

11 Vincent Clerc (Toulouse)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2003, 2005, 2010; Elite 50 caps: 72;

Elite 25 tries: 35

Heineken Cup matches: 72

A return to Toulouse -- shock horror! -- and the man who proved to be Ireland's nemesis at international level, albeit he never damaged the Irish provinces with such gleeful guzzling of tries. He has hurt plenty though. The competition's leading scorer of all time, he averages almost one in two. Simply prolific.

10 Felipe Contepomi (Bristol, Leinster, Toulon)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner 2009

Heineken Cup matches: 40

Others have lifted the trophy -- some audaciously plying their trade on the wing and at scrum-half (Austin Healey), but the thrills provided by the Argentinian genius gives him the nod. Did much to aid Leinster's breakthrough until cruel injury in Lansdowne Road semi-final curtailed his challenge.

9 Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz)

ERC Honours: Elite 50 caps: 63

Heineken Cup matches: 63

Beats off a pretty sturdy list of competitors -- competition winners Chris Whitaker, Isaac Boss, Matt Dawson, Freddy Michalak, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde could argue their case. But this is an individual selection and, like his club, the impish Frenchman was always someone you loved to hate. If we had our way, we'd bring on Morgan Parra at half-time!

1 Christian Califano (Toulouse)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner: 1996

Heineken Cup matches: 43

Just as we like the classy French backs who have so engrossed us over the years, so too are we captivated by those rugged, rustic legends of the front-row, led by Califano. Had a canny knack of being in the right place at the right time near the whitewash, notching seven tries in his 43 appearances.

2 William Servat (Toulouse)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner: 2003, 2005, 2010; ERC Elite 50 caps: 74

Heineken Cup matches: 74

The indomitable, old school Servat formed the indestructible Toulouse front-row that swept all before it in French club rugby at the turn of the millennium, a dominance they also franked in European competition.

3 Sylvain Marconnet (Biarritz, Stade Francais)

ERC Honours: Elite 50 caps: 76 (64 with Stade Francais, 12 with Biarritz)

Heineken Cup matches: 76

Never made it on to the winners' rostrum but that should not demean some sterling service for his respective clubs as he earned a reputation as one of the most feared scrummagers in the European game. He was the ultimate 'pillar.'

4 Fabien Pelous (Toulouse)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner: 2003, 2005; ERC Elite 50 caps: 81

Heineken Cup matches: 81

One of the most influential players the competition has seen in its 18-year lifetime; Pelous summed up 'Les Toulousains' and was the grim representative of coach Guy Noves on the field. Remembered here for kicking Alan Quinlan's a**e in the 2006 final. Kicking a**e sums him up quite neatly.

5 Martin Johnson (Leicester)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner: 2001, 2002; ERC Elite 50 caps: 51

Heineken Cup matches: 51

Like O'Connell, Johnson was a one-club man and his determined influence was, of course, also harnessed by England's 2003 World Cup-winning side. As an Irish president once discovered, this giant of the game was virtually immoveable.

6 Joe Worsley (Wasps)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner: 2004, 2007; ERC Elite 50 caps: 57

Heineken Cup matches: 57

Apart from, perhaps, the incomparable Brian O'Driscoll, nobody has demonstrated their ability to put their body on the line with repeatedly crunching tackling than this English stalwart. Made 33 tackles in the 2004 Heineken Cup final -- against Toulouse!

7 Neil Back (Leicester)

ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner: 2001, 2002

Heineken Cup matches: 49

Forever labelled as the evil hand who denied Munster a final triumph in 2002, his thievery betrayed an undying will to win that typified the Leicester and England teams of his era. As well as being a prime exponent of a back-row forward, he also scored 16 tries in 49 appearances.

8 Lawrence Dallaglio (Wasps)

ERC Honours: ERC Honours: Heineken Cup winner: 2004, 2007; ERC Elite 50 caps: 53

Heineken Cup matches: 53

Another one-club man who stood out as a totemic representative of his side's culture, the towering, all-action No 8 with the Cork mother led his side to two titles, including that memorable '04 success when, in reality, his side had no right to emerge as victors.

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