Ireland’s starting pack for Saturday’s GUINNESS Series 2008 opener against Canada includes five Munster men, two Leinster players and a single Ulster representative in flanker Stephen Ferris. Read on for full profiles of the players.
1 – MARCUS HORAN (SHANNON/MUNSTER)
A dynamic ball carrier who relishes a dart forward, MARCUS HORAN has carved out an impressive international career for himself.
He was ever-present during the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations last season, scoring his sixth Test try in spectacular fashion against Scotland.
Horan’s fine performances for both province, he was outstanding during Munster’s Heineken Cup-winning run in 2006, and country catapulted him back into the Ireland starting line-up, ousting Reggie Corrigan.
An honest scrummager, Horan debuted against the United States in 2000, but had to wait over two years for his second cap against Fiji.
Now a firm favourite with coaches and fans alike, the Limerick man was Ireland’s only try scorer when GUINNESS 2008 Series opponent New Zealand last visited Dublin three years ago.
2 – JERRY FLANNERY (SHANNON/MUNSTER)
A teak-tough hooker who adds cohesion to the set piece, JERRY FLANNERY is eager to win back the Ireland number 2 jersey he wore so impressively during the 2006 Six Nations.
Flannery scored a try on his first Test start against Italy that year and was ever-present for the remainder of the 2005/06 season.
He sprung to national prominence during Munster’s maiden Heineken Cup-winning campaign and adds plenty to Ireland’s play in the loose.
Shoulder surgery saw him sidelined for much of the next season and that coincided with the rise of Ulster hooker Rory Best.
Best made the hooker berth his own during the 2007 Triple Crown-winning run, leaving Flannery with a place on the bench.
Suspension and injury ruled him out of the 2008 Six Nations but the Limerick man started against the All Blacks in June and is regaining his best form.
3 – TONY BUCKLEY (SHANNON/MUNSTER)
Matching his set piece solidity with some forceful play in the loose, TONY BUCKLEY is set for his first start for Ireland after making nine appearances off the bench.
The Cork-born prop is a veritable giant of a man and was a second row at Newbridge College before switching to the front row.
His form in Shannon’s AIB League triumphs saw him push into the Munster squad, after he had a spell at Connacht.
Battling off a serious pelvic injury, Buckley was superb for Munster during the 2006/07 season, earning himself an Ireland debut against Argentina in June 2007.
His international chances have been limited and while he has endured a tough start to the current season, ‘Mushy’ is certain to rise again.
4 – DONNCHA O’CALLAGHAN (CORK CONSTITUTION/MUNSTER)
A robust lock who always puts his body on the line, DONNCHA O’CALLAGHAN has grown steadily in stature in the international arena since making his Ireland debut against Wales in 2003.
The last ten years must seem like a whirlwind to the Cork native, who was notably part of the Declan Kidney-coached Ireland Under-19 team that won the World Championship in 1998.
Closing in on his 50th Ireland cap, he boasts two Heineken Cup winners medals with Munster, Test caps with the British & Irish Lions and also played a sizeable role in Ireland’s three Triple Crown successes.
O’Callaghan was on bench duty for much of his early international career, but he gradually blossomed – being ever-present for the last two Six Nations championships and helping to turn his Munster second row partnership with Paul O’Connell into a Test standard one.
5 – PAUL O’CONNELL (YOUNG MUNSTER/MUNSTER)
Right up there as one of the best second rows in the world, PAUL O’CONNELL is one of the first names on an Ireland teamsheet such is the quality he possesses, both in a playing and leadership sense.
The Limerick man is a galvanising force in the Irish pack, a world class lineout jumper and a forward of immense power and presence.
A Lions Test player in 2005, he scored a try on his Ireland debut against Wales in February 2002 and became a permanent fixture in the Irish side the following year, starting all five games at the Rugby World Cup.
A talented swimmer and golfer in his youth, O’Connell has been virtually ever-present for Ireland since 2003 and his six-try tally includes the last ever Test try scored at the old Lansdowne Road.
The early seeds of his second row partnership with Donncha O’Callaghan were sown when he played in five consecutive games for the Irish Under-21s alongside O’Callaghan.
O’Connell, an IRB World Player of the Year nominee in 2006, has captained his country against France (February 2004), Scotland (February 2005), France (at Croke Park in February 2007) and Italy (August 2007). He famously skippered Munster to Heineken Cup glory last May.
6 – STEPHEN FERRIS (DUNGANNON/ULSTER)
A member of Ireland’s 2007 Rugby World Cup squad and 2008 summer tour squad, STEPHEN FERRIS is a strong-running back rower who relishes a big hit.
The Armagh man has battled back from a series of injuries – including recent back and rib injuries – to continue his fine development with Ulster and Ireland.
He is a firm fans’ favourite at Ravenhill and his presence has been missed by the Ulster team during his spells on the sideline.
He made his Test debut against the Pacific Islanders in the last international at the old Lansdowne Road in November 2006.
In his second year as a member of the IRFU’s High Performance Select Group, the combative Ferris came on as a replacement against Australia last June and is hoping to impress again during the GUINNESS Series 2008.
7 – SHANE JENNINGS (ST. MARY’S COLLEGE/LEINSTER)
A tigerish openside flanker and an excellent game-reader, SHANE JENNINGS has been to the forefront of successful periods for Leicester Tigers and Leinster in recent seasons.
Playing at the top of his game now for Leinster, the Dubliner, who was runner-up for the Guinness Premiership Player of the Year award in 2007, is hoping to reinvigorate an international career that has never truly got going.
He made only his second start for Ireland against Australia last June and his most significant role so far in an Ireland jersey came in the summer of 2006, when he captained Ireland ‘A’ to the Churchill Cup Plate title.
A previous stand-in captain for Leinster, his move back to the province helped Michael Cheika’s men claim the Magners League trophy last season.
8 – JAMIE HEASLIP (NAAS/LEINSTER)
A well-balanced runner and a powerful presence around the pitch, JAMIE HEASLIP made the Ireland number 8 jersey his own during the 2008 Six Nations.
The Leinster back rower, who is back affiliated with his home club Naas, has progressed steadily up through the ranks.
After starring for Dublin University and the Ireland Under-21s, he made his Leinster senior debut in the Celtic League in March 2005.
A son of former Shannon player Richard Heaslip, a Colonel in the Irish Army, the 24-year-old helped Ireland finish second at the 2004 Under-21 World Cup, earning himself an IRB U-21 Player of the Year nomination.
A debutant for Ireland against the Pacific Islanders in November 2006, he failed to make the 2007 Rugby World Cup squad but he has bounced back to start Ireland’s last six Test matches (prior to the GUINNESS series 2008).
RORY BEST (BANBRIDGE/ULSTER)
A proficient lineout operator who packs a punch in the loose, RORY BEST has come a long way since making his Test debut against New Zealand three years ago.
Now captain of Ulster, the 26-year-old muscled his way into the Irish team for the 2006 wins over South Africa and Australia and was ever-present during the 2007 Triple Crown-winning campaign.
He transferred his provincial form onto the international stage, with tries against the Pacific Islanders and Wales and some power-packed performances.
With Jerry Flannery and Bernard Jackman pressing him for the number 2 jersey, he started twice during the last Rugby World Cup and three times in the 2008 Six Nations, regaining the shirt again for the June clash with Australia.
JOHN HAYES (BRUFF/MUNSTER)
JOHN HAYES has been an almost constant presence in the Ireland pack since his first cap against Scotland in February 2000.
Known affectionately as ‘The Bull’, he was a latecomer to the game – he first lined out as a flanker for local club Bruff at the age of 18, but spells with Shannon and Invercargill in New Zealand helped mould him into a prop.
The Limerick native, who has won two Heineken Cups with Munster, came to the fore when starting all ten of Ireland’s internationals in the Triple Crown-winning year of 2004.
A rare try against Scotland followed and Lions Test recognition in New Zealand in 2005, as well as two more Triples Crowns and those European successes with Munster.
A veritable rock in the Irish scrum and lineout, the soft-spoken tighthead shows no signs of wilting – he played in all 13 of Ireland’s Tests during last season.
Hayes beat Phil Orr’s long-standing record (58 caps) as Ireland’s most-capped prop during the 2006 Six Nations.
RYAN CALDWELL (DUNGANNON/ULSTER)
An athletic and ground-guzzling second row, RYAN CALDWELL made his Ireland ‘A’ bow during the 2007 Churchill Cup and is on the cusp of a senior cap.
A member of the IRFU’s High Performance Select Group, he quickly emerged as one of Ulster’s first choice locks despite the presence of internationals Justin Harrison and Carlo Del Fava in the squad.
Caldwell is a former Ulster Schools Cup-winning captain with RBAI and joined the Ulster set-up on a development contract in 2003.
With two Under-21 World Championships and a number of energetic run-outs for Ulster and Ireland ‘A’ under his belt, he signed a new two-year deal with Ulster in January and is certainly a player to watch out for.
ALAN QUINLAN (SHANNON/MUNSTER)
Combative and regarded as one of the hardest opponents in a forwards battle, ALAN QUINLAN seems to be getting better with age as he spearheads Munster’s European assaults.
The Tipperary man has fought off some serious injuries in his time, most notably when he recovered from a cruciate knee ligament injury in 2005/06 to help Munster lift the Heineken Cup for the first time.
He came back into the international reckoning last year with a start against Argentina and though he was selected in the 2007 Rugby World Cup squad, he failed to make the matchday squads.
Quinlan, a product of Clanwilliam RFC, earned representative honours with the Ireland Youths and ‘A’ teams. He made his senior debut at the 1999 World Cup as a replacement against Romania.
Now 34, this streetwise campaigner may be in the autumn of his career but he still has an awful lot to offer both province and country.
DAVID WALLACE (GARRYOWEN/MUNSTER)
Some barnstorming displays for Munster helped DAVID WALLACE, a supreme athlete with an array of skills in his armoury, return to the international fold in 2006.
Now, the rugged flanker is an essential part of any Ireland squad – he was ever-present for the 2007 Rugby World Cup and 2008 Six Nations and has averaged two tries in the last two seasons.
Wallace won his first Ireland cap against Argentina in 2000, and was in and out of the team before being ever-present for the 2002 Six Nations.
A Lions tourist in 2001, injury and loss of form saw Wallace play for Ireland only seven times between the summers of 2003 and 2005.
But helped by his high quality run-outs in Munster’s two Heineken Cup-winning seasons, he has had a strong grip on the Ireland number 7 jersey ever since.
His brothers Paul and Richard are both former Ireland internationals and Lions tourists. Barring injury, David will become the first in the family to amass 50 caps or more.