Leonardo Ghiraldini: My Greatest XV

Leonardo Ghiraldini 2/2/2019
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.

And today we have Italian powerhouse hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, who made 104 Test appearances for the Azzurri between 2006-2019, including 53 in the Six Nations.

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

15. Andrea Masi (Italy)

I was lucky enough to play with Andrea for many years – he was unbelievable and fully deserving of the Player of the Championship award in 2011. He’s such a humble guy, he worked really hard throughout his career and he could play a variety of positions.

He was really good for the rest of the backs as well because of his organisation. He was a really quiet guy but his experience was so important for Italian rugby.

14. Jason Robinson (England)

I never had the chance to play with or against him but I watched him on TV and he was truly theatrical – I loved seeing what he could do in a rugby game. I know he played a lot at full-back but I’d have him on the wing, because he had great footwork and he played differently to everyone else at that time.

Nowadays you might see more modern wingers able to play around the pitch but Jason was ahead of his time. Every time he had the ball it was so exciting – you knew the defence were in for a tough time!

13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)

I had the privilege of playing against Brian a few times and he really was such an incredible player. I’ve seen that a few other people have picked him before but I don’t believe there is a better centre to choose than Brian.

He was able to do everything – running, tackling, kicking, passing – and I’ve never seen anyone with his timing in attack and defence. He wasn’t a huge guy but he was brilliant at everything asked of you as a rugby player on the pitch, and he was a true leader, too.

12. Manu Tuilagi (England)

He’s just a tough, tough guy! I played with him for Leicester and I’ve played against him a few times, and it’s definitely better to be on his team than on the opposition!

When he’s fit, he’s a beast – he’s fast, he’s fit and he’s physical. He’s got incredible skill and he knows the game. Unfortunately, he’s been injured a lot but he’s still young, he’s still got room to improve and I don’t think there’s anyone better to fit into my team.

11. Shane Williams (Wales)

I think having an attack with Jason Robinson and Shane Williams on the wings would be unbelievable! I played against Shane and I remember the feeling of satisfaction whenever I tackled him. He was a small guy but he was tough and still able to keep the ball alive during the contact.

He had great footwork and great ability to score, and he was just that much better than other players in his position. Whenever I see his stats – 58 tries in 87 Wales Tests – I can’t believe it, so he has to be in the team.

10. Jonny Wilkinson (England)

Jonny is just an example for everyone – I really admire him as a person and as a player, and he always gave 100 per cent in every game.

He did everything you would expect of a fly-half – he was able to control the tempo of the game and he was a world-class kicker – but he was so tough in defence, as well. Good fly-halves sometimes lack that but Jonny put everything into every aspect of the game.

9. Ben Youngs (England)

Ben’s not the biggest guy in the world but he’s won almost 100 Test caps for England and is a really smart guy. When I played with him for Leicester I appreciated his ability to give you the best ball in the best moment, which isn’t easy!

1. Cian Healy (Ireland)

Cian’s a very strong player and solid in the scrum, while he’s also very fit and his longevity is unbelievable. I don’t know him personally but I’ve played against him lots of times and I consider him one of the best at loosehead, in Europe and in the world.

2. Keith Wood (Ireland)

I know he didn’t play a huge amount after 2000 but Keith was the model modern-day hooker, and he really took the position to a new level. He was able to do everything across the pitch that you would expect nowadays, but during the period that Keith played it was so special to see.

I also have to mention William Servat because he was more than a solid hooker – I played against him a few times and he’s been my coach at Toulouse so I know him very well – and he was such a good player, even if he didn’t get as many caps as he perhaps should’ve done.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

I’m really impressed by his work rate – he’s a really good scrummager and even though he’s a big guy he’s very fit and he epitomises the modern-day prop. He’s able to scrum, to run around the pitch, and he’s still young so he can still improve.

Honourable mentions have to go to Martin Castrogiovanni – who was a world class prop – and Nicolas Mas, who was a really tough scrummager and was never easy to play against.

4. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

His consistency should be rewarded – I was tempted to choose either Steve Borthwick or Martin Johnson – but Alun Wyn has been at the top of the game for so long, and is still running around the pitch now.

It was always tough to play against him. He’s a true leader for Wales and the British & Irish Lions, and I’d find it very tough to leave him out of my team.

5. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)

Paul’s another player I admire a lot. I played against him a few times and he was always in the middle of the battle. He was a great athlete, a really hard worker and a true professional.

I’ve had the chance to speak to him and he’s a brilliant guy. He was a great leader for Ireland, and he’s one player I would’ve loved to have played with because you could see his ability to inspire people by example.

6. Lawrence Dallaglio (England)

When I was young I was impressed by his character and his personality on the field. He was such a tough player and he was so powerful.

Sam Warburton is just behind him in the team – he was a true leader but unfortunately suffered with injuries – and a mention has to go to Alessandro Zanni because he was brilliant for Italy, too.

7. Thierry Dusautoir (France)

I know Thierry very well – he’s a gentleman off the field but a real warrior on the pitch. He was so tough at the breakdown and I don’t think I ever saw anyone tackle like him in defence. I think he was the best player in the world in 2011.

I’ve been waiting to have a barbecue at his house for a year so hopefully this choice will speed up my invitation!

8. Sergio Parisse (Italy)

He’s a true leader, on and off the field. You can see his passion and love for the game every time he’s on the field. He’s a great friend of mine and has always been an unbelievable athlete, and he can do everything on the pitch.

He really is the ultimate professional – he’s the first to arrive for each session and the last to finish, even now at the end of his career.

Check out other players’ Greatest XVs below:

Tommy Bowe

Lee Byrne

Mark Cueto

Gordon D’Arcy

David Flatman and Tom Shanklin

Jamie Heaslip

Kenny Logan

Andrea Masi

Mike Phillips

Tim Visser

Andy Nicol

Lewis Moody

John Barclay