Over the coming weeks we will be selecting an X-Factor side from many of the best rugby nations, and here is our selection for Ireland.
1. Dave Kilcoyne:
In years past the answer would have been Cian Healy by a country mile, but both Healy and his Leinster club mate Jack McGrath have put on so much weight that both have lost a considerable amount of their mobility. Kilcoyne however, has kept his remarkable pace and athleticism, and while this has perhaps cost him his Ireland career, it has certainly endeared him to the Munster faithful.
2. Sean Cronin:
Cronin is absurdly quick. You’d never think it by the looks of him, but the Leinster veteran is perfectly comfortable running about in the centres while in open play. His set-piece play is frequently disappointing, but that isn’t really a concern on this list. Look for under 20’s star Adam McBurney to make an appearance on this list rather soon.
3. Rodney Ah-You:
Ah-You has struggled to break into the Ireland squad, but there are no tighthead props in Ireland who can match him in terms of impact in open play. Tadhg Furlong and Martin Moore are better all around, but Ah-You’s immense power and willingness to do maximum damage to his opposition are something Ireland do not often find in their #3 shirt.
4. Ultan Dillane:
Yet another Connacht man, but Dillane is only at the start of what should be a very bright future for Ireland. He brings a huge amount of physicality in the second row, as well as a dynamism that Ireland don’t often see in the tight five. Dillane has a very bright future for Ireland, and we expect him to play a very prominent role in the Irish tour of South Africa.
5. Iain Henderson:
Henderson is a freak. He has power that evokes memories of Stephen Ferris, and yet Ireland stalwart Jamie Heaslip has described him as having “magic feet.” The Ulster second row made a huge impact for Ireland at the World Cup, and is set to play a major role going forward. In Henderson and Dillane, Ireland have two hardworking, dynamic, and athletic second rows who could very well be in the side for at least the next World Cup cycle. Now that, is an exciting thought
Stander may not have been able to show it in green just yet, but Munster fans know full well how dangerous the South African born star is in space. Stander may not be the biggest flanker on the international stage, but he has adapted to that with an absurd work rate, and smart carries. He looks for soft shoulders before going into contact, better allowing him to free his arms or bust through the tackle.
7. Sean O’Brien:
We at RBP are beginning to fall in love with young Josh Van Der Flier, but for the time being O’Brien is clearly more of an X-Factor player. When he is healthy, O’Brien can offer great carrying and he is one of the best offloading flankers in the northern hemisphere. While his form has struggled in recent years, as injuries and the “no-offload rule” took their affect, O’Brien has remained one of Ireland’s most valuable assets.
8. Jamie Heaslip:
Before the 6 Nations, Heaslip would not be here. Either Stander or Jack Conan would be in this spot, but Heaslip has recovered his play of old, and just in time to save his position for Ireland. Heaslip runs great lines in space, and his ability to link up with backs and support his teammates into contact allows him to get plenty of opportunities in the wide channels.
9. Kieran Marmion:
There is no doubting Conor Murray’s ability, and he will be Ireland’s first choice 9 for years to come, but Marmion is simply a more exciting player. He faces tough competition looking forward, with the likes of Luke McGrath coming through for Leinster alongside Ireland’s usual bench scrum half, Eoin Reddan, but Marmion is an excitement machine just waiting for his chance in the green jersey.
10. Jonathan Sexton:
I understand the calls for Ian Madigan, but it seems to me that while Madigan squirms under the spotlight, Sexton steps up in a big way. From that day in Croke park way back in 2009, to the Heineken Cup final in 2011, to that incredible performance in Paris to win the 2014 6 Nations, Sexton has always had an ability to lift the play of those around him. And while he may have let his side down with that missed kick against the All Blacks back in 2013, Ireland have no better flyhalf than Sexton.
11. Craig Gilroy:
It is really hard to understand why Ireland have been so hesitant to give Gilroy more opportunities in green. The Ulsterman has been on fire over the last two seasons, and his electric footwork and blinding pace would give Ireland an attacking presence they haven’t had since the likes of Simon Geoghegan or Denis Hickie.
12. Stuart McCloskey:
We have watched the development of McCloskey closely here at RBP, and we really like what we have been seeing. McCloskey, at 6’4” and 240lbs, gives Ireland a physical presence at inside centre for sure, but he is so much more than that. The Bangor born midfielder uses excellent footwork to find soft shoulders, and then uses his powerful fend to exploit them. McCloskey has certainly been an X-Factor weapon for Ulster this season, and we are confident he could do the same for Ireland.
13. Robbie Henshaw:
After watching Henshaw doing the hard work for the last two seasons, we finally got a glimpse of him at outside centre against England. Needless to say, Henshaw did not disappoint. He thrived in the wider channel, making 108 metres with ball in hand, and coming just inches short of a momentum changing try. After seeing that display, there is no doubt in our mind that Ireland must consider Henshaw’s future in the 13 shirt, as it is simply his best position.
14. Keith Earls:
We were really tempted to pick Matt Healy, but in the end, Earls’ brilliance in the latter rounds of the 6 Nations won us over. The Munster utility back has searing pace and a brilliant step, making him a potent finisher on the wing. Earls has scored more tries at World Cups than any other Irish player, and with a finishing record like that, its really hard to leave him out of this list.
15. Simon Zebo:
Rob Kearney is brilliant under the high ball, but we have tired of his routine. Catch ball, run straight at defence, get tackled, repeat. Zebo on the other hand, changes that routine regularly, giving Ireland a fullback that actually seems to enjoy counterattacking. Zebo may not be the best defensively at fullback, but in attack he is electric at all times, and his eye for a gap is exactly what Ireland need at fullback.