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Poll: 2006 v 2014 – Which Ireland Rugby Team Was Better?

Poll: 2006 v 2014 – Which Ireland Rugby Team Was Better?
By Conor O'Leary Updated

To celebrate the visit of Marty Moore, Sean O'Brien and Devin Toner to Life Style Sports' this Saturday in Mary Street, Dublin at 12pm, we thought we'd have a bit of fun with an interesting poll.

Shop the full Canterbury IRFU range of jerseys, training kit and supporters wear in Life Style Sports stores and online at lifestylesports.com

We decided we'd compare the infamous Irish team that played in 2006, and whether they are better than the current team. For this, I've picked the starting lineups from the more impressive performances in each year. In 2006, Ireland beat a second string South African side and a full strength Australian side, meaning I'll pick the XV that lined up against Australia. In 2014, Ireland performed a lot better against South Africa than they did against Australia, so I'll pick from that XV. We will be comparing each player at their position.

I want to be clear on this. This isn't a "Who is better at their peak" question, this is "Who was better at this snapshot of time".

15. Geordan Murphy v Rob Kearney

To be honest, this wasn't one of the close calls (of which, there are many). Geordan Murphy was as close to the peak of his powers as possible in 2006. He was also one of the try scorers in the defeat of Australia. If this was judged on who was better at their peak it might be a much bigger dilemma, but this isn't Rob Kearney circa 2009-2010, and while his form has been good, Geordan Murphy at his finest was unplayable.

Our Pick: Geordan Murphy 2006

14. Shane Horgan v Tommy Bowe

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 were a year 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 cross kicks for tries from their outhalves.


Tommy 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 2006



13. Brian O'Driscoll v Jared Payne

The Brian O'Driscoll of 2006 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 making his international debut, 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.

Our Pick: Brian O'Driscoll 2006



12. Gordon D'Arcy v Robbie Henshaw

Gordon D'Arcy of 2006 was possibly the second best vintage of the now 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 would go on to be nominated for 6 Nations player of the tournament in 2007 a mere months after this end of year internationals.

Contrast to the up and coming Henshaw, D'Arcy has already fulfilled on a lot of his promise at this stage. It's possible/probably that Henshaw will reach the heights of D'arcy in years to come, but with this being his first appearance at an unfamiliar position, he did well, but not well enough to beat D'Arcy in this selection.

Pick: Gordon D'Arcy 2006


11. Denis Hickie v Simon Zebo

Both players can produce a bit of magic at the drop of a hat. Denis Hickie's pace and stepping ability was outstanding, and his try against Australia featuring his twirling ballerina-like moves was jaw dropping to watch. Zebo's had a penchant for some flair, and producing magical moments. The best is yet to come from Zebo, while Hickie was approaching his possibly premature retirement, he was class.

Our Pick: Denis Hickie 2006


10. Ronan O'Gara v Jonny Sexton

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 and won man of the match in this match, but with Jonny Wilkinson injured in 2006, Ronan O'Gara was the consensus 2nd best outhalf in the world at the time.

Our Pick: Draw


9. Isaac Boss v Conor Murray

Do you remember that mullet that Isaac Boss once had? That's reason enough for him not to make this list. Boss was making his international debut against South Africa, with first choice scrumhalf Peter Stringer dropping to the bench. If it was Stringer against Murray is might be a closer contest, but Conor Murray's improvements in the last 18 months have been extraordinary, and he is counted as one of the top scrumhalves in the world right now.

Murray is the first selection from the current crop.

Pick: Conor Murray 2014


1. Bryan Young v Jack McGrath

Bryan Young, like Boss, was an inexperienced player making his first international start. Jack McGrath is a lot more established in the Irish set up. Bryan Young, now 33, was the same age that Jack McGrath is now. Neither are/were first choice for Ireland, but McGrath has displayed a lot of promise. If it wasn't for the freak that is Cian Healy, McGrath could have been able to establish himself as one of Ireland's best ever loosehead props. I do think he is better than 2006 first choice loosehead Marcus Horan was, and his presence will push Healy to better himself, giving Ireland a valuable 1-2 combo at the loosehead position.

Pick: Jack McGrath 2014


2. Rory Best v Sean Cronin

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. Sean Cronin may not be the best at his hooking duties, but his impact across the pitch is certainly more than what Rory Best of 2006 was offering to Ireland while Flannery was injured.

Pick: Sean Cronin 2014


3. John Hayes v Mike Ross

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 and Nathan White. 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.

Our Pick: John Hayes 2006


4. Donncha O'Callaghan v Devin Toner

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 2006 vintage had a brilliant partnership with Paul O'Connell that was just about to blossom.

Devin Toner has undergone a Conor Murray like improvement in the last year and a half. 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 2006.

Pick: Donnacha O'Callaghan 2006


5. Paul O'Connell v Paul O'Connell

Originally I thought this was an easy decision, a 27 year old is always better than a 35 year old. Then I paused. Paul O'Connell now has an aura about him that wasn't there in 2006. 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. He wasn't as dominant in the lineout against South Africa, but his all around play is brilliant.

However, Paul O'Connell of 2006 was one of only 6 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 2006's version of Superman.

Our pick: Paul O'Connell 2006


6. Neil Best v Peter O'Mahony

Australia in 2006 was by far the highlight of Neil Best's Ireland career. Named man of the match, Best was a beast in that November, and it seemed like a long and promising career was ahead of him.

Peter O'Mahony is a similar beast. His trademark aggression is a lot more controlled, and he seems to be learning from the Paul O'Connell school of leadership. This choice is exceptionally tough given the parameters and Best's impressiveness; which may not be reflected in the voting. I do want to acknowledge Best's case here, but I might fear for my safety should I not choose Peter O'Mahony here.

Our Pick: Peter O'Mahony 2014


7. David Wallace v Rhys Ruddock

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. Ruddock was a last minute replacement for the ill Chris Henry, and playing in the unfamilar role of openside flanker, he did extremely well against South Africa, scoring a try. I can't justify picking him over David Wallace though, so another nod to a byegone era.

Our Pick: David Wallace 2006


8. Denis Leamy v Jamie Heaslip

This is a tough choice. Denis Leamy was yellow carded in the Australian game which can't help his chances, and while Heaslip hasn't reached the heights of 2009, he's evolved his game and seems a vital part of Joe Schmidt's plan. 13 carries and 14 tackles is an impressive total for Heaslip to tally against South Africa. It's extremely close, but I think I have to give the spot to Jamie Heaslip.

Our Pick: Jamie Heaslip 2014


Also Read:

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