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An XV Of Irish Rugby's Greatest Imports

An XV Of Irish Rugby's Greatest Imports
By Gavin Cooney Updated
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Isa Nacewa announced his (second) retirement today, which will bring to an end a fabulous Leinster career in which he could legitimately lay claim to be Irish Rugby's Greatest Ever Import. But if Nacewa holds the title, who else is in the reckoning? We've decided to stitch together an XV of rugby imports, to see who else belongs in Nacewa's company.

(Foreign players who have since played for Ireland are not considered).

Full-back - Paul Warwick 

Warwick was comfortable at out-half, too, but was never likely to dislodge ROG. The Aussie could play at centre or full-back too, so we're handing him the number 15 shirt in this team. A man who could take a drop-goal from Musgrave Park and have it sail between the posts at Thomond.


Wingers - Dougie Howlett, Isa Nacewa 

Few foreign players have wrapped themselves in respective local cultures as Howlett and Nacewa. Howlett performing the haka against the All-Blacks is an iconic Thomond memory, and he is still working with the club today as the head of Munster's commercial and marketing department.


Nacewa, meanwhile, has had a remarkable impact at Leinster - in spite of a deeply inauspicious start. Exceptionally versatile, Nacewa will leave Leinster after a year in which he was as key as ever. With Sexton and Ross Byrne off the field against Exeter in December, it was Nacewa who stood up to kick penalties and guide Leinster to a crucial European win. Lifting the Champions Cup in Bilbao would be a fitting send-off.

Centres - Lifemi Mafi, Rua Tipoki 

Trevor Halstead providing stiff competition here, but we've plumped for Tipoki and Mafi. Theirs was a formidable centre partnership that helped to secure the 2008 Heineken Cup for Munster, and such was their impact, Ronan O'Gara has gone on to say that they opened his eyes to how "enjoyable rugby can be". ROG has called Tipoki one of the best players he has ever played with, while Mafi went to on to have a successful career at Perpignan after leaving Limerick in 2012.


Out-half - Felipe Contepomi

Who else? While it was inevitable, Contepomi's injury and being replaced by Johnny Sexton against Munster in 2009 ushered in a new era for Leinster and Ireland. His legacy, however, is secure. He won a Celtic League and Heineken Cup with Leinster and was inducted into World Rugby's Hall of Fame last year. He kicked more than a thousand points from Leinster, and he could tackle too:



Scrum-half - Ruan Pienaar


Pienaar reluctantly left Ulster last season, and while his departure was rationalised as being in the best interests of the Irish national team and Ulster's accounts, how badly they could do with his experience and leadership at times as turbulent as these. That he and his young family were forced to leave Belfast last season left a sour note, but shouldn't shroud his contribution to the club during a seven-year stint, the highlight being the run to the 2012 Heineken Cup final.



Props - Federico Pucciariello, John Afoa 

Pucciariello became a crowd favourite at Munster as a frequent replacement for Marcus Horan. The Argentine-born Italian international started the 2006 Heineken Cup semi-final and finished the final, before ultimately losing his reserve spot to Tony Buckley. He became a Munster favourite in spite of not really knowing who Roy Keane is. This is a yarn from a recent Donncha O'Callaghan column recalling a Roy Keane pep talk at Munster.

Except not everyone is aware of who Roy Keane is. Federico Pucciariello and Anton Pitout don’t have a clue and after initially looking up to hear what he has to say, they resume their game of monopoly. Roy senses their indifference too. “Don’t worry lads, I won’t be holding you up much longer,” he says.

And the rest of us are mortified, throwing daggers at Freddie and Anton. Mortified but fascinated.

In total, Pucciariello made 85 caps for Munster and now owns a bio-diesel company in Argentina ,which Doug Howlett has invested in.

Afoa, meanwhile, made a huge impact at Ulster. His scrummaging was immense and was always useful in open play. He impressed to such an extent that Gloucester made him England's top-paid player in 2014, in a seven-figure contract.


Hooker - Ollie Le Roux 

We're not considering Richard Strauss as he went on to play for Ireland, which left the hooker pool fairly shallow. (Included in this conversation was former Galwegians hooker, Warren Gatland). But ahead of Ulster's Matt Sexton we're picking Springbok legend Ollie Le Roux off the back of a Celtic-League winning spell at Leinster even though he was a prop.

Second Rows - Nathan Hines, Brad Thorn 

It's hard to imagine it presently, but in the last few years Leinster have relied upon foreign imports to buttress their second row. Few came as effective as Thorn and Hines. The former stopped off for a few months in 2012 to pick up a Heineken Cup, while Scottish international Hines joined Leinster after the 2009 Lions tour and, like Thorn, won a Heineken Cup before moving to Clermont.

Flankers - Scott Fardy, Rocky Elsom

We're unsure as to how comfortable Elsom is at 7, but we've shunted him in that direction to fit him into this team. Elsom helped Leinster to their first European Cup in 2009, while his compatriot Fardy looks like repeating the trick this year. Although Elsom did beguile his achievement with the addition of the European and Leinster Player of the Year awards.


Number 8 - Jim Williams 

Williams is a Munster legend and this team wouldn't be complete without him. Joined Munster in 2001, initially on a two-year deal and was soon captain. He then progressed upstairs following his retirement, working as an assistant coach until he was offered a role with the Wallabies in 2008.

See Also: Three Leinster Players Shortlisted For European Player Of The Year

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