Search icon


22nd Apr 2024

Significant changes as Ireland’s ‘Top 20 most important rugby players’ list updated

Patrick McCarry

Irish rugby

We have a new number one.

When we first sat down, back in March 2021, to compile our Top 20 of most the important rugby players in Irish rugby, Johnny Sexton was top dog.

Following the World Cup, and the retirement of Sexton, we had a new player atop the standings. The idea was simple – to look at the Irish rugby landscape and determine who the most important players for Ireland are. What players are making Ireland tick, and what guys can Andy Farrell not do without.

The last time we published our list was not long after Ireland were eliminated at the World Cup quarter final stage. Since then, Ireland retained their Six Nations title, Munster were knocked out of the Champions Cup at the Last 16 stage, Connacht have struggled in Europe, Ulster have replaced Dan McFarland with Richie Murphy and Leinster look well set to chase trophies on two fronts.

The following is our Top 20 (in ascending order, 20 to 1) of the best players and most influential men in Irish rugby.

Irish rugby
Ciarán Frawley of Ireland, centre, celebrates with teammates Caelan Doris, left, and Jamison Gibson-Park and Jack Crowley after scoring their side’s third try against Wales in the 2024 Six Nations. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Major changes in Top 20 Irish rugby players list

After Johnny Sexton retired, the No.1 spot went to a player if felt Andy Farrell would really struggle if he was not involved. Top of our November 2023 list was Leinster fullback Hugo Keenan.

Keenan went into the Six Nations as one of the very first names on Farrell’s team-sheet, any time a big game rolled around. Keenan made his debut on the wing for Ireland but wrenched that No.15 jersey for himself from the beginning of the 2021 Six Nations.

During the recent Six Nations, we had two different players get game-time at fullback. Keenan picked up a leg injury in the home win over Italy, then was dogged with a hip injury. It meant Ciarán Frawley and Jordan Larmour got starts at 15. Neither were at Keenan’s level, but Ireland won those games, against Wales and Scotland.

The one player that now, in our mind, looks indispensable is scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park. The Leinster star is crucial to what makes his province, and Ireland, tick so impressively. Conor Murray and Craig Casey both have their moments but Gibson-Park is now Ireland’s most important, and invaluable, player.

We have two new entires in the Top 20 while Peter O’Mahony could yet be trucking on, so we have included him in the list.


20. Ciarán Frawley (new entry)
19. Jack Conan (up one)
18. Finlay Bealham (down three)
17. Rónan Kelleher (-)
16. Ryan Baird (up one)
15. Peter O’Mahony (down one)
14. Robbie Henshaw (-)
13. Mack Hansen (down seven)
12. Jack Crowley (up six)
11. Hugo Keenan (down 10)

Hugo Keenan
Jamison Gibson-Park of Ireland shakes hands with President of Ireland Michael D Higgins before a 2022 match against Fiji, at the Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

10. Tadhg Beirne (no move)
9. Dan Sheehan (down one)
8. Josh van der Flier (down one)
7. Joe McCarthy (new entry)
6. James Lowe (up three)
5. Bundee Aki (no move)
4. Tadhg Furlong (down one)
3. Andrew Porter (up one)
2. Caelan Doris (no move)
1. Jamison Gibson-Park (up 11)

It is interesting to see what we wrote, regarding the props, back in November 2023:

‘The two main props remain so vital to the Irish cause. At loosehead, that depth behind Andrew Porter is not overly encouraging, although there are some potential loosehead prospects at Munster and Leinster. It might be worth wringing another Test season out of Cian Healy to back up Porter.’

It will be fascinating to see what Irish rugby squad Andy Farrell takes with him to South Africa, this summer. The head coach is taking a British & Irish Lions sabbatical, later this year, and will want to install a settled squad and template for Simon Easterby, Paul O’Connell and Andrew Goodman to implement until his return, in autumn 2025.

Oli Jager, the Munster prop, is the only new cap, so far, this year and we do not expect a heap of newbies to be included in the squad to travel to South Africa, this summer. Centres, back row and second row look well stocked, and there are a few options at hooker. Finding an outhalf and scrumhalf to push the starters is something to look at, and prop options must be broached in the next six months as the current options are not getting any younger.


*Join SportsJOE’s WhatsApp community for first access to news, sports updates, and quizzes. Click on this link to receive news and the latest sports headlines directly to your phone.  You can leave the group at any time.

Related stories:

WATCH: Liverpool BOTTLED the title race 🤬 | Who will win the Premier League?