Rugby

2007 Vs 2015: Rating Ireland's Two Heavily Hyped World Cup Squads

2007 Vs 2015: Rating Ireland's Two Heavily Hyped World Cup Squads

Ireland are coming into a Rugby World Cup with the most optimism behind them since 2007, and we all know how that went. Ireland were so close to winning a Grand Slam in the 2007 Six Nations, but had won three Triple Crowns in four years. Ranked third in the world after beating experimental southern hemisphere sides the previous November, hopes were massive in Ireland for a big tournament.

Ireland were drawn in a tough pool though, with France and Argentina as opponents - both of whom went onto semi-final spots.

This time though, there is a similar optimism. Ireland were high in the world rankings, beat southern hemisphere teams last November, and go in as back to back Six Nations champions. There is a fear that Ireland are undercooked going in to the tournament - but things are different.

Joe Schmidt is smarter, there's a lot more depth around, and the majority of the expectation seems to be coming from outside of the country.

But which team was better? In a mixed XV of both years, which players would you want? We have a look.

15. Girvan Dempsey v Rob Kearney

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Both Rob Kearney and his predecessor at Leinster and Ireland have similar traits. Dempsey was the definition of rock solid at the back - fantastic under the high ball, and his defensive positioning and last man tackling.

Swervin' Girvan's attacking prowess is often overlooked. Kearney's probably produced the better rugby in their careers, but I'm plucking for the consistent 8/10 performances from Dempsey every time.

Irish rugby's Denis Irwin.

Our Pick: Girvan Dempsey 2007

14. Shane Horgan v Tommy Bowe

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This choice really highlights how lucky Ireland have been to have such quality wingers in our time. There are huge similarities between these players. Both two years removed from being selected for the Lions tour; both have built up a following after key tries against England in the 6 Nations; and both frequently receive(d) cross kicks for tries from their out-halves.

Bowe's consistency has been fantastic, and I think he may have had the better career of the two. But Horgan in 2006 is a lot closer to his peak than Bowe's peak in 2009, and for that reason, and that reason only I can't pick Bowe.

This tore the office, but I'm sticking with it.

Our Pick: Shane Horgan 2007

13. Brian O'Driscoll v Jared Payne

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The Brian O'Driscoll of 2007 was at one of his highest points in his career. His attacking prowess was still as good as the heydays in 2000-2003, while this defensive skills and experience were inching their way towards their peak of 2009. In contrast, Jared Payne is a year into his international career, readjusting himself back into the outside centre. Most people think that Payne is a lot more effective when playing at fullback. Perhaps, but in this discussion, O'Driscoll wins by a landslide, but it's a lot closer than it was a year ago.

Our Pick: Brian O'Driscoll 2007

12. Gordon D'Arcy v Robbie Henshaw

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Gordon D'Arcy of 2007 was possibly the second best vintage of the now de-bearded legend. This fresh faced version continually got over the gainline for Leinster and Ireland, and was reveling playing for Leinster under Michael Cheika after an injury plagued 2004/2005. D'Arcy was nominated for 6 Nations player of the tournament in 2007 and was primed to make a big statement going into the World Cup.

Contrast to the up and coming Henshaw, D'Arcy has already fulfilled on a lot of his promise at this stage. It's possible/probable that Henshaw will reach the heights of D'arcy in years to come. Henshaw's outstanding Six Nations shoots him right up there making this a tough choice. Henshaw has the size and power that D'Arcy would have loved, but for now the great man is still a nose ahead.

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Pick: Gordon D'Arcy 2007

11. Denis Hickie v Simon Zebo/Dave Kearney/ Keith Earls/ Luke Fitzgerald

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Left wing is one of those positions where it's not fully clear who Schmidt's favoured option will be. It was Simon Zebo for the majority of the Six Nations, Luke Fitzgerald for the last competitive game, but Dave Kearney is the form option. There's also Keith Earls sniffing around sticking his hand up.

Contrast that with the side-stepping wizardy of Denis Hickie, who decided to bow out of the game at the top of his game. It's not really close.

Our Pick: Denis Hickie 2007
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10. Ronan O'Gara v Johnny Sexton

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The most hotly debated position on this list, and an argument that has been heard down the pub and splits a country. Similar to the debate that split families when Roy Keane and Saipan happened, I am refusing to make a choice here. Sexton may have been nominated for IRB player of the year last year; but with Jonny Wilkinson injured for so long after 2007, Ronan O'Gara was the consensus 2nd best outhalf in the world at the time after one Dan Carter.

Some people think that Sexton is the first outhalf to be considered better than Carter since then, but I'm still not making a pick.

Our Pick: Draw

9. Peter Stringer v Conor Murray

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Conor Murray is unrecognisable from the lanky scrumhalf that first appeared for Ireland four years ago. His improvement in the last two years have been extraordinary, and he is counted as one of the top scrumhalves in the world right now. Stringer, for all his talent and pace, just can't match the physical attributes that Murray has. The current Munster man is one of Ireland's key playmakers, but the same can't be said for Stringer - as much as I want to.

Murray is the first selection from the current crop.

Pick: Conor Murray 2015

1. Marcus Horan v Cian Healy

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Cian Healy is a freak. He is, by a distance, the best loosehead prop Irish rugby has ever produced, and it's almost unfortunate that Jack McGrath, himself a candidate to be mentioned in that conversation happened to arrive in the same era as Healy.

Marcus Horan was a great servant to Irish rugby, amassing an incredible 67 caps. But he isn't in the same league as Healy or McGrath.

Pick: Cian Healy 2015

2. Jerry Flannery v Rory Best

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Rory Best is one of those players that had to earn my trust. There used to be a fear rise within me whenever I found out that he was coming off the bench for Jerry Flannery. Not anymore however, as Best has established himself as a core member of the Irish front row unit.

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That said, Jerry was an animal on the pitch. Precise darts almost all the time, a scrummaging machine and decent around the breakdown. Best might sneak it on the breakdown work section, but that's not a hooker's primary duty.

Flannery is Ireland's best hooker since Keith Wood, and it's a travesty his career was so injury-interrupted as it was.

Pick: Jerry Flannery 2007

3. John Hayes v Mike Ross

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Ireland's tightheads for the last 14 years. Imagine what would have happened if John Hayes had ever been injured? Ireland would have been in a worse position than if Cork man Mike Ross got injured, thanks to Martin Moore,  Nathan White, and Tadhg Furlong.

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There would have been a lot more drubbings like St.Patrick's Days 2012. Both players are/were vitally important to Irish rugby's well-being and are the unsung heroes of all the success that Irish rugby has had from the Munster and Leinster Heineken Cup wins to the Grand Slam in 2009 and 6 Nations victory in 2014.

Mike Ross is probably playing even better than he has before, but Hayes' importance and irreplaceability wins him the spot.

Our Pick: John Hayes 2007

4. Donncha O'Callaghan v Devin Toner

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Donncha O'Callaghan was a model of consistency for Munster and Ireland up until very recently when he's been edged out of the Munster picture by first Donnacha Ryan and then Dave Foley. The 20067vintage had a brilliant partnership with Paul O'Connell that was blossomming.

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Devin Toner has undergone a Conor Murray like improvement in the last two years. It's perhaps not as dramatic as that, but he needs to be credited with it anyway. This is a closer call than people might realise, but I'm going to play it safe and go with the Munster man of 2007.

Pick: Donnacha O'Callaghan 2007

5. Paul O'Connell v Paul O'Connell

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Originally I thought this was an easy decision, a 28 year old is always better than a 36 year old. Then I paused. Paul O'Connell now has an aura about him that wasn't fully established in 2007. Now, O'Connell is an awe-inspiring leader that demands the best out of those around him, and has been fantastic since he returned from injury that was plaguing him for the last few years.

However, Paul O'Connell of 2007 was coming off a year where he was one of only six Irishmen to ever be nominated for IRB player of the year. He may not have been as vital to his team as he is now, but by a nose, and solely due to the IRB POTY nomination it's 2007's version of Superman.

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Our pick: Paul O'Connell 2007

6. Simon Easterby v Peter O'Mahony

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Blindside flanker wasn't the area of strength for Eddie's untouchables as it is now. In fact, you'd argue it was the least untouchable of the untouchables. Neil Best occupied the jersey the previous November, but Simon Easterby was in control come World Cup time.

Peter O'Mahony is a beast. His trademark aggression is a lot more controlled, and he seems to be learning from the Paul O'Connell school of leadership.

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Peter O'Mahony is a future Irish captain in waiting, learning under the tutelage of Easterby, but O'Mahony has a much bigger ceiling to reach.

Our Pick: Peter O'Mahony 2015

7. David Wallace v Sean O'Brien

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David Wallace's form for Munster in 2006 saw him return to the Irish set up after his imperious form for Munster in their march to their first Heineken Cup win. He was not a typical openside flanker, but he was outstanding for Munster and Ireland through his career.

But Sean O'Brien is a one in a generational talent. Comfortable all across the backrow, his ball carrying spreads the fear of god into opposition defences. There's more to his game than carrying though, with ferocious rucking, huge tackles, and amazing breakdown poaching in his locker. Not a real seven? No one says that anymore.

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Our Pick: Sean O'Brien 2015

8. Denis Leamy v Jamie Heaslip

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Denis Leamy was on his way to being the next big thing. His path to world class was set out ahead of him, but injury's and a young Jamie Heaslip nipped in ahead of him. Leamy was never able to get to the place Heaslip is at now. Heaslip may not be at the heights of 2009, but his importance to Ireland and Leinster becomes crystal clear if the robotic man ever misses a game.

Our Pick: Jamie Heaslip 2015

Coach: Eddie O'Sullivan v Joe Schmidt

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Schmidt is renowned for some outstanding results in his time in Ireland, winning close to 80% of Ireland's games in charge. He has built enviable depth, but perhaps isn't sure who his best XV is.

The same can't be said of Eddie, who 100% knew his best XV, and didn't trust the options behind that.

Our pick: Joe Schmidt

Benches:

Eddie wasn't fond of his bench. Maybe the quality of player wasn't there, or maybe they just weren't trusted.

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Rugby these days means that all players on the bench should expect to get on. It's a new era, and replacements are necessary. Ireland have depth that they've never had before.

Our Pick: 2015 Bench

What do you think? Which team is better, especially going into a World Cup? Will the class of 2015 repeat the mistakes of 2007, or finally fulfill Irish rugby's potential in getting into a semi-final.

Also Read:

Poll: Who Would Win A Match Between The Italia 90 And 2002 Irish Team?
Poll: 2006 v 2014 – Which Ireland Rugby Team Was Better?
Conor O'Leary
Article written by
"That's what." - She.

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