Best Irish Rugby Players of All Time: Our Ultimate XV 2000-2023
Irish rugby is flying high right now, so it gave us the idea to try and put together our Ultimate XV of the best Irish rugby players of all time.
And we can say right now that it was NOT easy. So to narrow down the selection we’ve only selected players from the year 2000 to now.
As Official Retail Partners of the IRFU, we love our rugby so we said we would give it a crack to stir up some debate ahead of the World Cup 2023.
We’ve had to make some difficult decisions that we know some of you will disagree with – but isn’t that what sport is about?
Let us know you’d pick.
Before we start, if you want to know more about the positions, check out our Blog on the Guide to Rugby Positions Explained.
But back to the team, and without further ado…
Best Irish Rugby Players Of all time: XV
1 Cian Healy (Loosehead Prop)
Healy has brought longevity, resilience, determination and consistency to the Irish number one jersey like no one else.
The former Leinster star was, at one stage, the best loosehead in the world and was instrumental in Ireland winning four Six Nations he was involved in.
Battled back from some bad injuries throughout his career too, including one that robbed him of a Lions test jersey.
Healy is our first pick.
2 Keith Wood (Hooker)
The difficult decisions start here, and we know that Rory Best will be many people’s option here.
Both former captains, with Best representing Ireland much more than Wood. However, we feel Wood, at his peak, was untouchable.
Winning the inaugural World Rugby Player of the Year would suggest that too, as would his sensational displays for the British and Irish Lions during his five tests.
He was a physical powerhouse, yet was intelligent and incredibly skilful too.
3 Tadhg Furlong (Tighthead Prop)
There is a lot of competition for this place and the likes of John Hayes and Mike Ross can feel hard done by, but Furlong just offers something different.
What gives Furlong the nod is his all-round game and his ability to offer much more to the team than any other tighthead prop can.
The Leinster man has enjoyed two tours with the Lions, won two Grand Slams with Ireland, scored some memorable tries against the likes of New Zealand and is an driving force.
He still has much more to write in his history book too.
4 Paul O’Connell (Second Row)
Absolutely no debating this one.
The Munster hero was an inspiration captain for Ireland and the Lions during his career.
Prolific in the line out and never took a step back breaking lines, O’Connell is a true Irish rugby great.
5 Donncha O’Callaghan (Second Row)
O’Callaghan had to beat off some competition to partner his Munster teammate O’Connell in the second row, but we think he deserves the nod.
Definitely understated by many in his ability in the lineout and the Irish pack, he was also part of two British and Irish Lions tours.
A heroic figure on his day, if you were going to war you would certainly want his beside you.
6 Peter O’Mahony (Blindside Flanker)
The flankers was probably the most competitive area of the field to pick and we didn’t make this decision lightly.
But you can’t ignore the influence Peter O’Mahoney has on Ireland and how they’ve climbed to the very top of World Rugby in recent years.
He beats off competition from the great Sean O’Brien, Stephen Ferris and David Wallace too and we feel it is warranted.
He can play anywhere in the back-row too, the Munster man makes things look easy when he’s on-song.
7 Josh Van der Flier (Openside Flanker)
This might be a slightly controversial pick too, but what Van der Flier has done in his only 50 appearances is massive.
One of the few Irish players named as World Rugby Player of the Year, Van der Flier is a key cog in the wheel of Andy Farrell’s side right now.
Known as ‘The Dutch Disciple’, if Ireland are to push on in 2023 and make a serious challenge at winning the World Cup, Van der Flier will be one of the most important influences in the team.
8 Jamie Heaslip (Number 8)
Three Heineken Champions Cups and three Six Nations championships makes it hard to ignore Heaslip.
Throw in two World Player of the Year nominations too.
His 2009 performances, especially that try against France at Croke Park, were second only to the great Brian O’Driscoll, and his all-round game ticked all the boxes.
9 Conor Murray (Scrum Half)
Tries: 100 points
Peter Stringer can feel hard done by, but Murray was a different class on his day.
He could pass like the very best, but his box-kicking was where he excelled and where Irish teams became such a threat.
Was the best in the world at one stage, and while his form has dipped in recent years and not recovered to the levels where he was at, he’s still worthy on inclusion.
10 Johnny Sexton (Captain, Fly Half)
Tries: 1050 points
Some might think this position is up for discussion with The Great ROG v Sexton debate, but not for us.
Sexton is up there in the very highest of echelons of Irish rugby, potentially our greatest ever. The only debate we will have on Sexton is him versus O’Driscoll.
O’Gara, of course, will be popular with some. And there’s an argument to say he was the better kicker of the two.
But Sexton is world class in every single part of his game and to continue that level into his late 30s is truly special.
11 Denis Hickie (left Wing)
Hickie had some serious competition from flyer Keith Earls, but the former’s try-rate gives him the nod.
Nearly a try every second game, Hickie could tackle every bit as impressively and he could score.
The Leinster star was electric, exciting, and reliable.
12 Gordan D’Arcy
Alongside BOD, D’Arcy completed the world’s best centre partnership at one stage in his career.
He worked super well alongside O’Driscoll because of his defensive abilities, which unlocked his partner on cutting open defences occasion after occasion.
Had an absolute tireless work rate that often went unnoticed, D’Arcy was an unsung hero and his efforts warranted more silverware than he got.
13 Brian O’Driscoll (Outside Centre)
The easiest selection of the day.
We may be biased, but we think O’Driscoll is the greatest outside centre to every play the game.
The Leinster legend and former Lions captain, he scored 46 tries in 133 appearances for Ireland – the eighth highest in international rugby history.
He was beautifully skilful, fearless in the tackle and could create moments of absolute magic out of nowhere and in the smallest of gaps.
14 Tommy Bowe (Right Wing)
Injuries curtailed the longevity of his career and you could only wonder what Tommy Bowe might have achieved if he didn’t have them.
But when in full flight he was a joy to watch and 30 tries in 69 games is some going.
Bowe certainly wasn’t appreciated for what he was doing at the time, but looking back the former Ulster flier was a real big-game player.
15 Rob Kearney (Full Back)
Appearances: 95 caps for Ireland (retired in 2020)
Another one of the easier picks.
Kearney revolutionised the full back jersey for Ireland and is the most decorated in the history of Irish rugby.
Unbelievable under a high ball and complimented with powerful ball-carrying, Kearney was a gem.
Well, what do you think?
We’re really curious to hear your opinions on who should be in the best Irish rugby players of all time.
Because there’s a lot of lads who were so close to making the cut.
If you’re looking for Irish rugby gear, they look no further than below.
**Stat was correct at time of writing and may have changed since**