Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh picks an Irish XV comprising of the 2009 Grand Slam team and the team that will chase that title on Saturday.
How do you compare two gems and pick the most beautiful? Weight, cut, price? So often there’s no objective way to decide how to best appreciate something — and that’s the sense ahead of tomorrow’s potential Grand Slam decider in Twickenham.
A third ever slam — how will this team be seen in comparison with the side that took the honours in 2009, ending a drought that lasted over half a century.
That side picked itself for much of the championship, while this side has had an element of musical chairs about it.
There’s no Seán O’Brien, Jared Payne, Jamie Heaslip — and after three rounds, no Robbie Henshaw or Chris Farrell. Tadhg Furlong needed a doctor’s note on occasion too.
Then there’s all the kids who had won nothing before this campaign — and now have a Six Nations title before they’ve bowed their heads for even a Pro14 winners medal.
When we look back at 2009, many of the players had European Cup winners medals in their pockets, Lions caps — and even a captain — and no little experience at Test level.
So, already they appear ‘greater’ players, because they had achieved so much. But for much of this group of players, those achievements look to be in their future rather than their past. They will likely go on and win Lions caps and more titles.
I’ve compared the team that beat Wales in Cardiff in 2009, and the side that aims to win the slam in London tomorrow — and picked a combined XV.
Selected players in bold.
Rob Kearney: One of many to start all five games, added Heineken Cup title that season, as well as Lions tour. Dream year.
Tommy Bowe: Not at his most prolific that season, but scored the crucial try in Cardiff to put Ireland on the road to victory. Double Lions tourist — big boots to fill.
Brian O’Driscoll: What can be said that hasn’t been said? Ringrose has massive ability and even greater potential — will he (or anyone) come close to BOD?
Gordon D’Arcy: The other half of one of the finest midfields around. Could thrive in the modern era with his strength and size. Double Lions tourist, often under-appreciated.
Luke Fitzgerald: The great hope who lived up to the hype but the candle went out too quickly. Won only 34 caps due to injury, but another Lion.
Ronan O’Gara: One of the greats, and the kingmaker in Cardiff in 2009 — the greats always have a signature moment like that. Sexton’s could be Paris, we’ll know more tomorrow.
Tomás O’Leary: Won a third of his Ireland caps in 2009, and started four of the five slam winning games that spring. Bowed to the inevitable when Murray pushed his way through.
Marcus Horan: A key man for Munster and Ireland in the second half of the noughties, a pacy prop who’d enjoy today’s game. Double Heineken Cup winner.
Jerry Flannery: A starter for little more than half his 41 caps, in what was a competitive time for hookers. Earned a Lions call-up after Slam win.
John Hayes: Became the country’s most-capped player in 2009 slam season, the bedrock of Ireland and Munster. What would the quiet man make of Furlong’s displays?
Donncha O’Callaghan: Somewhat in the shadow of his second row partner, but DOC made two Lions tours and started almost 70 times for Ireland. A huge figure, sometimes underappreciated.
Paul O’Connell: Lions captain, three times tourist, 108 caps for his country — there’s not much anyone can hope to do better than the Limerick man did.
Stephen Ferris: Ever present in the slam winning team, his dynamic form earned him a Lions call-up but that, like so much of his career, was disrupted by injury. Huge in 2011 World Cup.
David Wallace: A remarkably consistent and prolonged international career for such an explosive player. Integral for club and country and yet another Lions king.
Jamie Heaslip: Made his first start for Ireland in 2006 and never looked back. 91 starts from 95 caps, 5 starts for 5 Lions tests. Absolutely vital player.
Rob Kearney: One of two survivors from 2009, the Leinster man has been written off but keeps coming back. Solid, in defence and attack, against Scots.
Keith Earls: Another ‘veteran’ who continues to defy the ageing process — in fact, he appears to be getting better and faster.
Garry Ringrose: The heir apparent. Had played just 55 minutes this year before Scots start — and absolutely tore it up. Has it all. How much will he end up with?
Bundee Aki: A late comer, the Connacht man has walked into Test rugby and looked right at home. Hint of the D’Arcy’s about him too.
Jacob Stockdale: A simply ridiculous introduction to test rugby — with 10 tries in eight games. Still work to do in defence, but right-time-right-place gift in attack.
Johnny Sexton: One of the best No 10s in the world right now, without a doubt. ROG at his peak v JS at his? The latter might just be edging it.
Conor Murray: Another halfback at the world class standard — is there anyone better? Peerless with Ireland, tomorrow could be a defining game.
Cian Healy: Back from the brink last year after a summer where he pressed a reset button. Is he better than he was 10 years ago? There’s a case to be made.
Rory Best: An ever-ready bunny, the Ulster skipper just never seems to tire. Still huge at ruck time, tomorrow could see him join a very elite club.
Tadhg Furlong: Another in the world-class bracket, and he’s gotten there at breakneck pace. Lions caps under his belt already, many would pick him over Hayes.
Devin Toner: Mr Reliable. In a competitive spot right now, but has waited for his turn and made the most of his lot in the last few years.
James Ryan: The future. If any player sums up the new breed it’s the 21 year-old. 18 senior games, 0 losses. Can he make it to 19? What a debut season, if yes.
Peter O’Mahony: Triple Six Nations winner and Lions skipper — not a bad lot for the Munster skipper. An inspirational leader, he deserves a slam for the CV.
Dan Leavy: Another new kid on the block, but the Leinster flanker has high hopes for himself, and that means nailing down a starting place. Looking good so far.
CJ Stander: Mr Man of the Match in Munster, the South African born No 8 is key man in Schmidt’s team. Lions capped, tight call between him and Heaslip, when both were fit.
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