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06th Nov 2023

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

Patrick McCarry

Irish rugby

The long-standing No.1 has hung up his boots.

Ever since we 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.

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 after Ireland won the 2023 Six Nations. Since then, Munster won the United Rugby Championship, Leinster had their hearts broken in the Champions Cup final, Ireland stretched their unbeaten Test run from 10 to 18 games, then got bumped out of the World Cup at the quarter final stage. All that we had Keith Earls and Johnny Sexton retire.

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

Irish rugbyIrish rugby players Peter O’Mahony, James Ryan and Jonathan Sexton. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Major changes in Top 20 Irish rugby players list

With Johnny Sexton now retired there, of course, will be a new No.1.

For me, Sexton was the most important player in Irish rugby for much of the last decade before he retired. There were times when Conor Murray and Tadhg Furlong might have been more crucial to the fortunes of the Irish team, or their game-plan, but sexton would always have been around the top three.

It did not take Andy Farrell long to push all his chips behind Sexton as the leader and talisman on his team. He rode that horse all the way to the World Cup quarter final, and all the way through that game (Jack Crowley was the only unused sub). It almost worked, but Sexton certainly left it all out there. He was one of Ireland’s best performers all tournament.

Crowley is a new arrival in that Top 20 but the new No.1 is a guy that Ireland would be in the most bother without. Bundee Aki and Andrew Porter, who had varying fortunes in that last eight loss to New Zealand, are two of the other big climbers, in terms of their importance to the team.


20. Jack Conan (down two)
19. Conor Murray (up one)
18. Jack Crowley (new entry)
17. Ryan Baird (up two)
16. Iain Henderson
15. Finlay Bealham
14. Peter O’Mahony (up one)
13. James Ryan (down two)
12. Jamison Gibson-Park
11. Garry Ringrose (down one)

Irish rugbyIrish rugby players, from left,  Hugo Keenan, Tadhg Furlong and Caelan Doris. (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile)

10. Tadhg Beirne (up four)
9. James Lowe
8. Dan Sheehan (down one)
7. Josh van der Flier (down two)
6. Mack Hansen (up two)
5. Bundee Aki (up 12)
4. Andrew Porter (up two)
3. Tadhg Furlong
2. Caelan Doris (up two)
1. Hugo Keenan (up one)

Ireland may have the likes of Jimmy O’Brien and Mack Hansen who can cover fullback, but Hugo Keenan – right now – is in a class of his own. Giving him proper competition for the 15 jersey will be a big push over the next couple of years.

Caelan Doris’ ability to cover across the back row, and his undoubted class, sees him climb. Bundee Aki shoots up 12 spots but Ireland have decent cover for centres, with James Hume showing early season form for Ulster, too.

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.


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