's Best Overseas Irish Rugby XV

By Colman Stanley

The talent pool in Ireland grows deeper year on year, pushing more and more players to look for game time opportunities abroad.

Money obviously plays a large role as well, as does sunny weather and the chance at once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

England and France are the homes of all but two of the players in our XV. Some have been away for many a year, others only arrived last year, while a few will be coming back to these shores next season.

*Some players have not been considered due to legal disputes, past and present.

James Cronin (Leicester Tigers) - Loose Head Prop

Munster did a spot of spring cleaning in recent years, and soon realised they had mistakenly given away both Cronin and John Ryan.

In Munster's defence, Jeremy Loughman and Dave Kilcoyne were both on the books, and few would have predicted the extent to which he has thrived in his new home in the Gallagher Premiership.

He is one of the best looseys in the league, and helped his side to the Premiership title last year and a strong Champions Cup campaign.


May have added to his Ireland tally had he stayed.

7 April 2023; Irish rugby :  James Cronin of Leicester Tigers during the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final match between Leinster and Leicester Tigers at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Bryan Byrne (Bristol Bears) - Hooker

Byrne saw the writing on the wall at Leinster with the emergence of Dan Sheehan and Rónan Kelleher.

Despite being a talented player himself, the two younger men will make it very difficult for anyone but the once in a generation type of hooker to forge a meaningful career at Leinster.

Although mainly second choice this season, he gets ample game time off the bench for Bristol, littered with a handful of starts.


John Ryan (Chiefs) - Tight Head Prop

'You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone' has been unfortunately true for Munster with their handling of John Ryan.

They are badly missing his services right now, as he continues his Super Rugby adventure in Waikato.

Munster did get him back briefly after he moved to Wasps in 2022, and thankfully he will be returning to the province next season.


29 October 2022; Irish rugby :  John Ryan of Munster during the United Rugby Championship match between Munster and Ulster at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Jack Dunne (Exeter Chiefs) - Lock

Exeter Chiefs are one of the top clubs for developing talent, with past Irish examples such as Gareth Steenson, Ian Whitten, and currently Sean O'Brien.


Dunne's move has also seen him procure Champions Cup minutes, something which he would have struggled for had he remained at Leinster.

At 6ft 8in and over 18 stone, his services should be in high demand for many years to come, while he has already amassed 21 appearances this season alone.

Joe Joyce (Bristol Bears) - Lock

Joyce is a Bristol legend at this stage, as he looks ahead to his move to Connacht next season, and he gets the nod over ex-Connacht man Quinn Roux, who his currently togging out for Johann van Graan's Bath.


At over 18 stone, the ex-Ireland U20s player will look to add much needed beef and power to Connacht's pack.

Ultan Dillane (La Rochelle) - Blindside Flanker

Rugby on the West coast of France for one of Europe's top three sides, a substantial contract, and the tutelage of one of the most exciting coaches in rugby - everything is coming up trumps for Dillane.

Primarily a second row at Connacht, the Kerryman has been deployed at six in France, and recently lined out in the back row in his side's powerful take down of Saracens in the Champions Cup semis.

14 January 2023; Irish rugby : Ultan Dillane of La Rochelle during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool B Round 3 match between La Rochelle and Ulster at Stade Marcel Deflandre in La Rochelle, France. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Eoghan Masterson (Aurillac) - Openside Flanker

With his stellar performances for Connacht over the years, the flanker has shown that he is probably above the level of Pro D2.


But, with the playing numbers in France, there is a lot of depth in the country and the second tier of French rugby is still a very tough league for a forward.

The 30-year-old has featured 19 times this season for Aurillac -including a few games at second row - who lie in 11th place out of 16 teams.

Sean Jansen (Leicester Tigers) - Number Eight

The 23-year-old from Dunedin will be moving to Connacht next season, and is eligible to play for Ireland through his grandparents, who hail from Monasterevin and Belfast.

He is listed as 6ft 3in and over 18 stone, and could be the gain line smashing machine that Connacht have been craving for.

He has one Champions Cup start this season, in an impressive away win at Clermont.

Hugh O'Sullivan (London Irish) - Scrum Half

There are not too many options to choose from from an experience standpoint, but Hugh O'Sullivan stands out with his appearances in the Exiles' run to the final of the Premiership Rugby Cup final, where they lost out to Exeter.

The former Belvedere schools player featured prominently in the tournament and has four Premiership appearances this season as well.

JJ Hanrahan (Dragons Rugby) - Out Half

Despite the lowly league position of the Dragons, Hanrahan has seen plenty of game time in his favourite position at out half, while he also enjoyed what would have been an incredibly satisfying early season win over his old province.

JJ's career has had its share of unsuccessful moves, but he has found a welcoming home at Rodney Parade.

18 February 2023; Irish rugby :  Dave Kearney of Leinster is pushed over by JJ Hanrahan of Dragons during the United Rugby Championship match between Leinster and Dragons at RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Tyler Miller/Sportsfile

Rory O'Loughlin (Exeter Chiefs) - Left Wing

One of the handiest players Leinster had in their squad before he left last year - someone who could play at a high level in both centre spots and on the wing.

While most of his game time this season has been at 13, he has filled in on the left wing recently, including Exeter's Champions Cup Round of 16 epic against Montpellier.

Sean O'Brien (Exeter Chiefs) - Inside Centre

O'Brien has been one of the most talked about Irish players in the last number of weeks, following his Champions Cup performances for semi-finalists Exeter and the subsequent announcement of his move to Munster next season.

Competent in both centre positions, most of his starts this season have come at 13 although his games in the Champions Cup round of 16 and quarter-finals were at inside.

22 March 2021; Irish rugby : Sean O'Brien of Connacht on his way to scoring his side's third try during the Guinness PRO14 match between Scarlets and Connacht at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli, Wales. Photo by Gareth Everett/Sportsfile

Ian Whitten (Exeter Chiefs) - Outside Centre

This selection gets a few extra points for familiarity, with both centres plying their trade in the South of England.

Whitten and O'Brien have one start together this season, with O'Brien starting outside and Whitten at inside centre, but both men have been more recently deployed in the positions you see here.

The 35-year-old ex-Ulsterman, with two Ireland caps to his name, has ground out a magnificent career for himself since leaving Ireland in 2012, and is one of the most successful Irishmen to have gone abroad.

Sammy Arnold (Brive) - Right Wing

Arnold is 90% out and out centre, but there have been rare sightings of him out on the wing.

In fact, his one start out wide this season came in a try scoring performance against Toulouse.

He has seen plenty of game time with his new club Brive, but they sit bottom of the Top 14 and look likely to be relegated to Pro D2.

19 December 2021; Irish rugby : Sam Arnold of Connacht during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool B match between Leicester Tigers and Connacht at Mattioli Woods Welford Road in Leicester, England. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Darren Sweetnam (Oyonnax) - Fullback

The 29-year-old is another man whose talents go beyond the standard of Pro D2, and he has helped his side to an enormous 23 point lead at the top of the league.

The quick and classy footballer was considered an out-and-out winger during his many years at Munster, but he has found a new and regular home at fullback this season.

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