The Irish are here and, to celebrate, Chris Rattue has come up with a team of emerald green greats.

Tom Kiernan (fullback)

A crusty Herald comrade kept hammering the name Ernie Crawford for fullback, claiming our old All Black wizard George Nepia proclaimed him as extra special.

However, the long-time custodian Kiernan gets the nod, which also allows us to remember that he coached Munster to beat the All Blacks on a famous occasion in 1978.


Kiernan is one of those sports people who always seems to be the captain, coach or president.

Tony O'Reilly (wing)

The flamboyant, powerfully built king of Irish wings has yet to be dethroned 40-plus years after his last test.

O'Reilly was a teenage test sensation whose long career was laced with a superstar X-factor that colours evaluations of his game.

Brian O'Driscoll (centre)

Picking the Irish centres is a breeze - a mythical game featuring the pairing of Brian O'Driscoll and Mike Gibson would cut any side apart.

With absolutely no offence meant to Irish rugby, try contemplating what O'Driscoll would have achieved in a stronger test side.

Ireland operate on a veneer of leading players stretched to breaking point at times, but O'Driscoll is one Irish identity who exudes a belief they can topple any opponent. He is certainly good enough to do so.

Mike Gibson (centre)

Young rugby devotees in the 1970s were brought up to understand that this man was the finest midfield back ever, that he played the sort of rugby New Zealand must aspire to.

He provided the DNA of the genius 1971 Lions before any of us knew what DNA was.
Forty years on, his standing is undiminished. Brilliant, durable, versatile - he was a caviar-stuffed worksburger.

Tommy Bowe (wing)

Outstanding Irish wings are in short supply but who would be brave enough to tell Tommy Bowe that? Bowe is built like a loose forward with a running technique you could break rocks with.

He's in our team although, unfortunately, out of the current tour with injury.

Jackie Kyle (five-eighths)

New Zealand have Colin Meads. Ireland have Jackie Kyle and Willie John McBride. First among automatic selections, in other words.

Kyle was a genius attacker for his country and the Lions in the 1940s and 50s when he created and scored famous tries in an era when a 9-all game could be mocked as one of loose defence.

Ireland has produced superb five-eighths such as Ollie Campbell, Tony Ward and Mike Gibson but they don't get a look in against Kyle.

Michael Bradley (halfback)

We opted to pick the touring Irish rugby press brains here. Not a position of note for Ireland. Peter Stringer played a lot of tests and wasn't bad but hardly exceptional.

Bradley's name popped up. He was regarded as a busy halfback in the 1980s and 90s, although his all-round game was a lot better than that suggests. Halfback is still open for nominations, to be honest.

Willie Duggan (No 8)

A hard footballer and classic character. Profiles emphasise his heavy smoking along with an allergy to early nights on rugby tours.

When asked to warm up before an Ireland training, Duggan replied this was unnecessary thanks to an excellent heater in his car.

On being sent off during a test, Duggan told the referee, "I'm buggered anyway."

In a groundbreaking move, he passed his cigarette to the referee as he ran out against France.

The stories go on and on, but shouldn't detract from his status as a magnificent forward.

Fergus Slattery (flanker)

The 1970s star with sensational speed for a forward.

That he didn't figure in the famous 1971 Lions test campaign was a testament to the strength of that touring side but he made up for it in South Africa three years later and led Ireland on one of their finest expeditions, to Australia, in 1979.

Stephen Ferris (flanker)

Only midway through his career with any luck, but Ireland have a dearth of leading lights in this area and the massive Ferris is as good an Irish prospect as any.

The blindside loosie led the way in the famous World Cup victory at Eden Park, when Ireland ground Australia down by holding them up in the tackle.

Will be sorely missed on this tour.

Paul O'Connell (lock)

Big red beats Donal Lenihan to the job. Moss Keane was also a contender, especially on the folklore factor, but O'Connell is too good to leave out despite being in the thick of the 2005 Lions tour flop.

A raw-boned slab of world-class forward, even if he lacks the outright charisma of players past. One of three in our team who has been invalided out of this three-test tour.

Willie John McBride (lock)

Legend time, as much for the Lions as Ireland.

One of rugby's greatest locks, if not THE greatest.

Also did tremendous work in popularising the extra-wide, individually wrapped headband. Central to the mighty Lions teams that defied the tide of history with series wins against New Zealand and South Africa in the early/mid 1970s.

Architect of the infamous "99" call-to-arms, the signal for Lions players to punch the Springboks en masse.

Legend. Legend. Legend.

Ray McLoughlin (prop)

Technically superb prop and still giving the IRB advice on scrums last year at the tender age of 72.

A noted IQ faltered against Canterbury in 1971 though, when he tried to ding Alex Wyllie's granite-like head and broke a thumb, putting him out of the test series. Or did the infamous Wyllie head-butt McLoughlin's thumb perhaps?

Keith Wood (hooker)

Among the most wonderful characters in rugby, a one-man wrecking ball with a head that looked like one. This son of an Irish frontrower led from the front with a rampaging style during tough times for Irish rugby.

Phil Orr (prop)

Sneaks in ahead of the IRB icon Syd Millar who, like Ray McLoughlin, played both sides of the scrum. Orr was among the best looseheads in the business during a long career.

Didn't quite kick on as a Lion but enjoyed among the best of Irish rugby times in the 1980s.

Orr had a Mexican look thanks to a droopy moustache, yet came across as a good bloke rather than a front-row bandit.