The Greatest ‘Irish’ Lions XV Of The Professional Era

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Irish Lions.

Ireland throughout the professional era has always had a considerable presence on British & Irish Lions tours.

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Both Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell have been named as tour captains, (2005 & 2009 respectively) in the professional era, while a host of other Irish players have been selected and played key roles.

But who would make a greatest Irish-only Lions XV? We’ve decided to give it a go.

And remember this is the professional era ONLY so only players selected on Lions tours from 1997-2017 are eligible.

1. Jack McGrath
(2017)

Cian Healy’s Lions tour was unfortunately cut short before it really began back in 2013 but Jack McGrath was a key member of the 2017 squad that managed to draw the series with New Zealand. Notable mentions: Cian Healy (2013)

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2. Keith Wood
(1997, 2001)

Played an integral role in the series win over the Springboks in 1997. Toured again in 2001, the same year he was named World Player of the Year. Notable mentions: Rory Best (2013, 2017)

3. Paul Wallace
(1997)

Wallace was selected to tour South Africa with the 1997 British and Irish Lions. He became one of only five members of the tour who played the full duration of all three tests. Wallace was a very influential player in the winning of the series, facing Os du Randt in the scrum and was subsequently described by tour captain Martin Johnson, as: “my player of the series” with tour manager Fran Cotton regarding him as the cornerstone of the Lions scrum. Notable mentions: Tadhg Furlong (2017), John Hayes (2005, 2009)

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4. Donncha O’Callaghan
(2005, 2009)
Captained the Lions against the Southern Kings in 2009 on their final tour match before the first Test against South Africa and also toured New Zealand back in 2005. Notable mentions: Iain Henderson (2017)

5. Paul O’Connell
(2005, 2009, 2013)

The towering lock started all three tests in 2005 and was tour captain in 2009, once again starting all three tests. Started the first test in 2013 before an injury cut his tour short. One of the best players the Lions have ever had.

6. Sean O’Brien
(2009, 2013, 2017)

Withdrew early from the 2009 tour and missed out on selection for the opening Test of the 2013 tour before making the bench for the final two. Had unfinished business in 2017 and played a key role against the All Blacks. Notable mentions: Stephen Ferris (2013), Peter O’Mahony (2017)

7. David Wallace
(2001, 2009)

One of the greatest sevens to have ever graced the game, Wallace toured twice with the Lions – to Australia in 2001 and South Africa in 2009 where he played in all three Test games against the Springboks.

8. Jamie Heaslip
(2009, 2013)

Heaslip was a member of the British and Irish Lions squad for the 2009 tour to South Africa and the 2013 tour to Australia. He started all three tests on the 2009 tour and played in two Tests on the 2013 tour. He also was nominated for the World Player of the Year in 2009. Notable mentions: CJ Stander (2017)

9. Conor Murray
(2013, 2017)

Played second fiddle to Mike Phillips but shone in the third test against Australia in 2o13. Made the jersey his own in 2017 and in line to travel on the 2021 tour too.

10. Johnny Sexton
(2013, 2017)

Started all three games in 2013 as they Lions picked up a series win over Australia. Benched for the first Test in 2017 but played a key role in the final two games as the Lions secured a famous win and draw against the All Blacks. Notable mentions: Ronan O’Gara

11. Keith Earls
(2009)

A surprise pick in 2009, Earls shone throughout the midweek games and came very close to a test spot despite his age. Notable mentions: Shane Horgan, Luke Fitzgerald, Simon Zebo

12. Rob Henderson
(2001)

Went into the 2001 tour as one of the best centres in the world, starting all three tests and played a key role alongside Brian O’Driscoll. Notable mentions: Gordon D’Arcy, Robbie Henshaw.

13. Brian O’Driscoll
(2001, 2005, 2009, 2013)

The only player in history to go on four tours in the professional era. Famously dropped by Gatland in 2013, O’Driscoll will go down as one of, if not the, greatest Lions player in history.

14. Tommy Bowe
(2009, 2013)

Started all three tests in 2009, going on to be one of the player’s of the tournament. A broken hand limited him to two test games in 2013.

15. Rob Kearney
(2009, 2013)

At the peak of his powers in 2009, he was a revelation in South Africa putting on one of the all-time great performances in the second Test. Kept out by Leigh Halfpenny and Stuart Hogg in 2013. Notable mentions: Jared Payne (2017)