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Laulala honour shows Munster new boy size of boots to fill

The scale of the task facing Munster’s new centre signing Andrew Smith was made clear yesterday when the man he is set to replace was named in the RaboDirect Pro12 Dream Team for the season about to end.

Casey Laulala, leaving shortly for Racing Metro, is one of seven players from the Irish provinces to make the final selection, while Cardiff’s Robin Copeland is also named at No 8 ahead of his switch to Munster over the summer.

Once again, the Pro12 ‘best of’ is dominated by players whose availability stretches through the season and is therefore devoid of some of the bigger stars whose appearances in the competition tend to be more hit and miss.

Ulster’s Andrew Trimble and Alun-Wyn Jones are rare examples of players who have featured prominently at Test and Rabo levels with the breakdown running as follows: Ireland 7; Wales 7, Scotland 1; Italy 0.

Leinster contribute three to the 15, all of them in the pack; hooker Sean Cronin and flankers Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy those selected.

On international duty, Cronin has had to settle for an impact role off the bench, but with his club side the Limerickman was more prominent — at least until Richardt Strauss returned to full health following a heart scare.

For Murphy, who lines up at openside in this team, it has been the clichéd ‘breakthrough’ season with a number of man-of-the-match displays for his club leading in to a full Ireland debut and more.

Murphy’s arrival has tended to overshadow Ruddock’s contribution, but the latter captained the Wolfhounds, won a second full cap and was outstanding in the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat against Toulon.

Aside from Laulala, Munster have been honoured with the selection of loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne, whose club form has stood up impressively despite being overlooked at national level by Joe Schmidt.

Like Munster, Ulster will be wistful over the choice of one of theirs — Johann Muller — who retires this month after a hugely influential spell on and off the park at Ravenhill. Trimble’s selection raises few eyebrows.

The Ospreys have three players in Jones at lock, Canadian wing Jeff Hassler and fly-half Dan Biggar, the top points scorer in the league with 204.

Scarlets, who look to have secured sixth in the table, have also got three players in the side, Gareth Davies getting the nod at scrum-half along with full-back Liam Williams and young Samson Lee at tighthead prop.

Copeland rounds off the ‘Welsh’ contingent while inside centre Alex Dunbar of Glasgow Warriors is the lone Scot to be so honoured, despite a campaign that was marred by injury.

RaboDirect Pro12 Dream Team: Liam Williams (Scarlets); Jeff Hassler (Ospreys), Casey Laulala (Munster), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Andrew Trimble (Ulster); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Gareth Davies (Scarlets); Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Samson Lee (Scarlets); Johann Muller (Ulster), Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys); Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Robin Copeland (Cardiff Blues).