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23rd Jul 2022

The Top 20 rugby players in Ireland, right now

Patrick McCarry

Ireland best rugby players

Back for our end-of-season round-up, and there are a few changes.

These are the best players and most influential men in Irish rugby, right now.

Following the 2021 Six Nations, we sat down to compile our Top 20 rugby players in Ireland. The full, original list is here, but our top three was: Tadhg Furlong, Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Beirne.

Now that the season is over, and the All Blacks have been bested, we felt it was only fitting to update that list.

Before we launch in, a note that this Top 20 is for players that are eligible to play for Ireland, so no digs intended at the likes of RG Snyman, Michael Ala’alatoa, Duane Vermeulen, et al. Now, in ascending order, from 20 to 1, let’s get to it.


20. Cian Healy*

Turns 35, later this year, but still crucial to this team’s success. Now settled into his role as the experienced finisher, relieving Andrew Porter, and rock-steady in the scrum. Getting another 15 months out of Healy is crucial, unless another loosehead, such as Josh Wycherley, stakes a claim in the 12 remaining Test matches before the World Cup.

19. Finlay Bealham*

Irish rugby

Such a solid scrummager and a guy who has heaps of international experience now. Showed his worth in a late scrum in the Third Test against New Zealand – putting the squeeze on to allow Caelan Doris break off to bag the scrumhalf.

18. Conor Murray (up two places)

Andy Farrell, as of now, looks to have settled on the liked of Murray, Healy, Rob Herring, Keith Earls and a few more as his experienced hands to see out games and slot seamlessly in for the final 20 to 25 minutes. Keeps stacking up career wins over the All Blacks.

17. Jack Conan (down five)

Lost his place in the starting back row to Peter O’Mahony, but still came on and played a big part in all three Tests. Will be doing all he can, next season, to get back into that starting XV.

16. Mack Hansen*

Irish rugby

In the space of five months, has become an important player in this team. Missed the First Test after isolating due to a Covid positive. Was excellent in the Dunedin victory and had a few vital moments in the series clincher. Andrew Conway and Rob Baloucoune will have their work cut out to displace him.

15. Garry Ringrose (down five)

Had a decent First Test and scored a lovely try in the corner, but fell off a tackle on Ardie Savea as the final dagger was plunged. Was going well in the Second Test when he was sparked out by Angus Ta’avao. Remains a big part of Farrell’s plans.

14. Bundee Aki (down three)

Arrived in New Zealand under pressure from James Hume and possibly facing the prospect of just being a Test back-up, but ended up being a key part in the Dunedin and Wellington victories. Made a stack of big carries in the Third Test.

13. James Lowe (up two)

His left boot is a key part of the Irish game-plan and he almost had a pearler of a 50:22 in the Third Test, but still pinned the Kiwis back. Wonderfully delayed pass to Hugo Keenan, for his try, and was used for strike-plays off lineouts and scrums. That transition from winger to additional centre is a big part of his game.

12. Dan Sheehan (up five)

Irish rugby

A fantastic tour for the Leinster hooker. His lineout throwing was pressured in the opening Test, but relatively untroubled thereafter. A demon for getting stuck in. Rónan Kelleher will need to be at his best to get that green No.2 back.

11. Hugo Keenan (down seven)

Dropping from fourth to 11th may seem like a slight on the fullback, but it definitely is not. Others around him grabbed the attention while Keenan was steady as ever. The ABs tried to test him every way they could think of, but he walked through the flames and rarely took a lick. Grabbed a fine try in the decider.

10. James Ryan (up six)

Much more like it. First Test was not his finest hour, but he was not the only Irish player to punch weaker than he is capable of. Responded with two superb games in Dunedin and Wellington.

9. Peter O’Mahony (up nine)

Irish rugby

The biggest climber since our initial list, in March. Forced his way back into the starting back row and was consistent over all three Tests, irritating the hell out of the All Blacks. Dunedin was one of his finest hours, making big turnovers, tackles and lineout steals.

8. Andrew Porter (down one)

Is almost so singularly good in his role that the worry can be what if he is not fit to start a big game. Didn’t have it all his own way at the scrum, but one hell of a competitor, and athlete. Played the full 80 at Eden Park, showed up the next week and big two tries in a historic Test victory.

7. Robbie Henshaw (up seven)

Having toured New Zealand in 2017 with the Lions, but was not involved with the Test sides, this was another big moment for Henshaw on the world stage. Followed on from his brilliant Lions form to cause the ABs no end of headaches, in attack and defence.

6. Jamison Gibson-Park (up three)

Irish rugby

All the chips are pushed in now on JGP and Johnny Sexton at 9 and 10. He had a poor game at Eden Park – trying to push it hard but at the cost of his team. Bounced back stupendously with big games in Dunedin and Wellington.

5. Caelan Doris (up one)

One of the first names on the team-sheet now and showed that his quiet night at Eden Park was a blip with a towering performance at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Not only caused a number of breakdown issues for the All Blacks, he made some big carries that helped Ireland set up camp in the away, not leaving without some devastating tries.

4. Josh van der Flier (up one)

Like O’Mahony, he was on it from the First Test and mightily impressive in all three games. His running lines and leg drive saw him bounce multiple black jerseys back and get his team piling forward. Stuck 66 tackles and won six turnovers in the three games, as well as a big maul try in the decider.

3. Tadhg Beirne (same position)

His Eden Park start was his first game in almost four months but, once the cobwebs had been blown off, he was supreme in the series. Made two scything carries in Dunedin, and skittled Jordie Barrett on another. Then, at Sky Stadium, he delivered his finest game for Ireland, which included winning three turnovers inside his 22, in the final 10 minutes.

2. Tadhg Furlong (down one)

We are so used to this man throwing skip passes, side-stepping backs or playing scrumhalf that being merely excellent and holding up his side of the scrum is almost underwhelming. Had another fine tour and rattled plenty of ribs when he wasn’t making big carries himself.

1. Johnny Sexton (up one)

Irish rugby

The three-Test series against New Zealand only confirmed how beholden Ireland are to this man. There are 12 Tests remaining before the next World Cup, and it may be the November games and tournament warm-ups left for the other 10s to scrap over. You suspect Sexton will definitely start against South Africa and four of the 2022 Six Nations games. He was as good as ever, in New Zealand.

*Means first time on the list

  • Why you should never underestimate Keith Earls.
  • Eddie Jones on Roy Keane’s ‘inspirational’ talk to the England rugby team.
  • How Johnny Sexton sets standards in training.

Watch these videos and more in our player below.

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