Jamie Heaslip: My Greatest XV

It has now been two decades since Italy joined the Guinness Six Nations and the Championship has provided countless memorable moments in that time.

It has now been two decades since Italy joined the Guinness Six Nations and the Championship has provided countless memorable moments in that time.

As we reflect on the past 20 years, we are asking some of the great players who have played a part to select their Greatest XV.

Today we have Jamie Heaslip, the Ireland No.8 who won 100 Test caps and won the Championship three times including a Grand Slams in 2009.

Heaslip has gone for some former teammates and a number of his old rivals in his XV.

You can join in too on the Guinness Six Nations app where you can pick your own ultimate team and compare it to Heaslip’s Greatest XV below.

15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)

Leigh Halfpenny is a close second, but Rob’s CV at international level makes him my full-back. His positioning in the backfield was second-to-none, and he gave me such good guidance on how to cover it. He made me feel like it was impossible for a fly-half to find space back there. That’s a skill in itself. Also, I don’t think there’s anyone better under a high ball than Rob Kearney. His skill is unbelievable – he can take it in the basket, he can catch it over his head, he can run it at full-tilt. I honestly don’t think there’s anyone better than him. I learnt a lot from him on how to catch a ball.

14. Jason Robinson (England)

I never played with him, but just looking at him he absolutely carved it up. He could literally go around you in a phone-box. He had such quick feet and was incredible for that England team. An honourable mention goes to my old teammate Luke Fitzgerald.

13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)

I don’t think you could have anyone other than BOD at 13. Funnily enough, I would argue that Robbie Henshaw is potentially a more skilful player than Brian, as is Garry Ringrose, but that’s the evolution of rugby. That’s what happens – the young players coming through learn from the man in the shirt already and improve themselves based on that. Defensively, there was no-one better than Brian. He controlled the width of the team. Jonathan Davies is up there as someone else, but Brian was so astute defensively and put his body on the line to snuff out attacks. He was also really dynamic in attack, as well as being a great passer of the ball, which he probably never got enough credit for. When Brian got the ball, you knew that there was a good chance he’d make something happen.

12. Manu Tuilagi (England)

This is a really tough one, but Manu’s class. He’s a big ball-carrier and he gets you over the gain-line all day long. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for his footballing brain and his skill. Someone who didn’t have Manu’s size or power, but was brilliant anyway, was Yannick Jauzion. In his prime, he was just pure class. It was the first time you started to see a really tall inside centre – previously they’d been slightly smaller but brutish. He could run with the ball and pass well. It’s a toss-up between the two, but I’ll go with Manu because I played with him.

11. Shane Williams (Wales)

He was really small but so dynamic. He could always break open a game, and he had a nose for a try. Great finisher, too. Shane just has to be in there.

10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

This is another really close one. All good fly-halves are non-stop, and Johnny is the same. He’s a great student of the game, always looking to get better and constantly researching what’s happening. He’s always trying to put players away in space. He’s the quarterback of a team. Everything goes through him – in every team I’ve played in, when we’re playing well, Johnny is playing well. Jonny Wilkinson was close too, but again – I played with Sexton, so he pips it.

9. Mike Phillips (Wales)

I thought Phillips was class. He changed the mould of what a nine is – it was like having another back rower on the field, but one who could do everything a scrum-half needs to be able to do. He became an attacking threat himself, as well as being able to get around the field and get passes away. Conor Murray gets an honourable mention.

1. Cian Healy (Ireland)

I think he’s redefined what it means to be a loosehead prop, in terms of his dynamism and work rate around the field, as well as being a formidable scrummager. I think Gethin Jenkins would be a good shout, too, but Healy was slightly better.

2. Raphael Ibanez (France)

He was pretty special. I never played with him, but always loved watching him. The only person I see who’s similar to him nowadays is Jamie George. Ibanez transcended the position, he just changed what hookers could do.

3. Phil Vickery (England)

Tighthead is such a tough one to call – props are like their own entity. He had incredible longevity for a prop. I’d have Tadhg Furlong close, but he’s probably not been around long enough just yet.

4. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

I played behind Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O’Connell as a pair. They were unbelievable. Alun Wyn’s work-rate around the field, as well as being a good ball-carrying threat. He’s like a back rower. He very rarely puts a foot wrong.

5. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)

Paul was such a good leader, on and off the field. The best I’ve ever played under – it’s that simple. He was also a complete defensive animal. His record speaks volumes for his absolute quality.

6. Richard Hill (England)

This is an easy choice. Hill was just class. He did everything a back rower needs to be able to do, and he did it well. He never had a bad game. He put his body on the line the whole time. He was a pretty special type of player. I think he even played openside for the Lions, and he always played 80 minutes. I liked that.

7. Sean O’Brien (Ireland)

He is the all-round seven. He was a ballcarrier, a tackler, a jackler. He could do it all. He’s the best ball-carrier I’ve ever seen. He got too many injuries, which sometimes takes him off the list, but he was a touch of class. He was so skilful that he could play across the back row, but he was at his best at seven. I loved playing with him.

8. Sergio Parisse (Italy)

I always think it’d be amazing for Parisse to have played for a stronger team. When you saw him at Stade Français, he was a lot freer – he was not the only target. I think he brought a flair and skill level that you didn’t see from many other players. Imanol Harinordoquy is in the conversation. He was a bit of a maverick who could play across the back row. He had a great footballing brain, but Sergio just nicks it for me.