Ireland rugby legend picks his all-time greatest Six Nations XV

The best of the best.

During Ireland’s impressive Six Nations so far, one former Ireland star and winner of the tournament has taken the time to pick his all-time greatest Six Nations side when speaking to rugby news site RugbyPass.

Number eight, Jamie Heaslip, is of course a legend of Irish rugby – awarded 95 caps for his country, he has won the Six Nations three times including a Grand Slam in 2009 – and when making his selections has opted for players he has watched and shared the field with during his glittering career.

Heaslip, however, hasn’t been afraid to mix up his side, picking just three of his Ireland compatriots in his team. Instead, Heaslip gives his side a more international feel, opting largely for French flair with five France players in his team, followed by four Welsh players and finally three Englishmen.

Deciding on who to pull the strings at fly-half was a tough call for Heaslip, who played alongside Johnny Sexton, Ireland’s all-time leading point scorer. In the end, it was England legend and 2003 World Cup winner, Jonny Wilkinson, who got the nod ahead of his former teammate and good friend, Sexton.

Heaslip, said:

“Sorry Sexo…he’s going to hate me for this one [laughs]… but I’ve gone for Jonny Wilkinson because the consistent level of excellence that he brought to this position is unsurpassed. You can’t argue with his achievements either, facts are the facts.”

In the pack, Heaslip has selected Tadhg Furlong at tighthead and his former captain, Paul O’Connell in the second row. On Furlong, Heaslip praised the impact he has made in the position and how he is now the benchmark for tightheads:

“I just think he’s another player who has changed how this position is played and when people are picking tightheads now, you look at Tadhg and say ‘that’s the standard now.’”

Speaking of his former captain Paul O’Connell, Heaslip, said:

“Another icon of the game. I played with Paulie a lot and I can tell you his focus and detail on the game was second to none. He did the basics, but he did them so well. Off the field he was an unbelievable professional too; in my book no one comes close in this position if I’m honest.”

Alongside O’Connell in the engine room of the second row is former England captain, Martin Johnson. At loosehead is Gethin Jenkins, a cornerstone of Wales’ success in the tournament and a 2005 Grand Slam winner. Heaslip chose current England captain, Jamie George at hooker:

“Really good hands, feet, great defensively and yeah, this might be a little leftfield with Jamie but that’s what I like; players who change the status quo. It’s a big shout for me over Keith Wood.”

Making up the back row, Heaslip selected two French stalwarts, Olivier Magne at openside with former French captain, Thierry Dusautoir on the blindside. Taking up his old position, number eight, Heaslip selected Wales’ Taulupe Faletau, stating:

“He’s a class operator with a massive work capacity and he won’t just wait for the ball to come to him, he’ll roll his sleeves up and do the dirty work – and not a lot of 8s will do this. He stood out in a great Welsh team too.”

Partnering Wilkinson, Heaslip went for Welshman, Mike Phillips, who he also played alongside with for the British & Irish Lions. Moving into the rest of the backline, Heaslip went for French legends Vincent Clerc and Christophe Dominici on the wings.

The other Irishman in Heaslip’s side is none other than Brian O’Driscoll at outside centre:

“I mean, he’s an icon of the game; there are very few players who can be globally recognised like Brian. He changed the expectations of that position forever and while there might technically be ‘better’ players now, he transformed how you play the game there.

“It was an unbelievable pleasure to have played with him and I reckon anyone who has – or has come up against him – will have nothing but respect for Brian.”

Finally, at full-back, Heaslip has picked Welshman Leigh Halfpenny, a player he greatly admires:

“We know how good he is with his boot, but he excelled in other areas too and I probably didn’t realise just how good he was until I toured with him in 2013. This really shed a light on it for me. He ain’t tall either and is unassuming, but he made every inch of himself count on that field.”

Coaching his greatest Six Nations XV is his former boss Joe Schmidt, who he credits as transforming Ireland into a ruthlessly efficient team. While as referee, Welshman Nigel Owens takes the whistle.

Finally, on selecting a venue, he channelled his own nostalgia, selecting Lansdowne Road:

“The old Lansdowne Road – make sure you mention it’s the old one! I love the place, you had the wild terraces, the crowd were so on top of you as well.

“It’s also where I got my first cap and I was lucky enough to play in the last international and club games there, in fact I think I got the last try ever there – I know I’m completely and utterly biased here, but it’s pretty iconic in my eyes.”

The full legends’ picks can be found here.

Jamie Heaslip’s 6N XV

1. Gethin Jenkins (WAL)
2. Jamie George (ENG)
3. Tadhg Furlong (IRE)
4. Martin Johnson (ENG)
5. Paul O’Connell (IRE)
6. Olivier Magne (FRA)
7. Thierry Dusautoir (FRA)
8. Taulupe Faletau (WAL)

9. Mike Phillips (WAL)
10. Jonny Wilkinson (ENG)
11. Christophe Dominici (FRA)
12. Yannick Jauzion (FRA)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (IRE)
14. Vincent Clerc (FRA)
15. Leigh Halfpenny (WAL)

Coach: Joe Schmidt (NZ)
Referee: Nigel Owens (WAL)
Venue: Landsdowne Road

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