Teams of the decade: Plenty of Cork rugby icons in best Munster selection

Teams of the decade: Plenty of Cork rugby icons in best Munster selection
Cork's Billy Holland has been ultra-consistent for Munster Rugby throughout the decade. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

THERE is probably only two that you could call shoo-ins if you were to pick the best Munster team over the last 10 years.

They would fill the number four and number 10 jerseys respectively with Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara the clear-cut winners in their positions, though they’re retired a while now.

Judging different players for different positions also becomes more difficult because the nature of the game has changed in terms of pace, size and physicality in the 10 years.

FULL-BACK: Simon Zebo: There have been some brilliant full-backs in that time frame for Munster. Doug Howlett, Felix Jones, Andrew Conway but the best of all was Zebo. He just gave Munster that X-Factor.

RIGHT WING: Andrew Conway. Most fans would like to see him as full-back. He has lightning-fast feet and is probably the best finisher in the current Munster team.

OUTSIDE CENTRE: Casey Laulala. He had brains and brawn much like current number 13 Chris Farrell. Jaco Taute also gets an honourable mention and never let the jersey down but for longevity and consistency, Laulala was the man.

INSIDE CENTRE: Rory Scannell. Munster have had many top-class 12s in the 10 years like Lifeimi Mafi, James Downey and Denis Hurley but Scannell is a second five eight in the true sense, has a huge left boot on him and nerves of steel as he showed last season with a winning kick from the halfway line with the last kick of the game.

Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

LEFT WING: Keith Earls. ‘The Kid’ has been one of the standout players in the position for the last number of seasons for club and country. Honorable mentions go to Denis Hurley who also played there with distinction.

OUT HALF: Ronan O’Gara. ROG set the standard for Munster out-halves in the professional era, JJ Hanrahan and Tyler Bleyendaal also were in the mix but you can have only one king in a kingdom and the Corkman was it.

SCRUM-HALF: Conor Murray.

When you have the choice of the likes of Lions scrum-half Murray and All-Ireland hurling winner Tomás O’Leary in the frame it was always going to be a razor-thin call. Peter Stringer only played one season with Munster in the last decade.

LOOSEHEAD PROP: Marcus Horan. Munster have had a long and illustrious list of great looseheads and Horan was a tight call. Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin have kept up the high standards in loose playset by Horan.

HOOKER: Jerry Flannery. Flannery was again a standard-bearer in a position where Munster have excelled.

Damien Varley and Mike Sherry also get a mention while current number twos Niall Scannell, Rhys Marshall and Kevin O’Byrne have all benefitted from Flannery’s knowledge while he was on the Munster coaching ticket.

TIGHTHEAD PROP: BJ Botha gets in here. John Hayes from Bruff was an option but retired in the early part of the decade.

LOCK: Paul O’Connell. Made the famous ‘Manic aggression’ speech for Ireland but put it into practice when he pulled on the red jersey. Favourable mention goes to Donnacha Ryan, Dave Foley and Jean Kleyn.

LOCK: Billy Holland. Found it hard to break into the Munster number five jersey with the likes of Mick O’Driscoll and Donncha O’Callaghan ahead of him but has been Mr consistent since his breakthrough.

BLINDSIDE FLANKER: Peter O’Mahony. Again a close call when you have the likes of Alan Quinlan in the frame but O’Mahony has led by example since his first game for the Reds.

OPENSIDE FLANKER: Tommy O’Donnell gets the nod here. David Wallace was a legend but his best work was in the noughties.

NUMBER EIGHT: James Coughlan. A really tough call when you have CJ Stander and Denis Leamy in the frame also. Coughlan was a late bloomer in rugby terms but a highly consistent performer and help Munster beat Australia.

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