English pundits remove two Irish players from Team of the Year
Austin Healey joked that the reason there was so many Irish was that so many rugby fans from our humble isle had hogged the phone lines.
Of all the team of the year selections, you would struggle to find ones without Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and Peter O'Mahony. Ireland won 11 from 12 Tests including a Grand Slam, two that clinched a series win over Australia and a 16-9 triumph over the All Blacks in Dublin.
In the end of year selections and tallies, Ireland's stellar run of results has seen many of their team rewarded. A number of the Irish pack have made World XV selections and Johnny Sexton picked up the World Player of the Year prize in Monaco earlier this month.
BT Sport ran a poll of their own recently and seven Irish players made the cut. Sexton and Bundee Aki were there, as were five of the Irish pack. Interestingly, after more than 50,000 votes were cast, Jacob Stockdale only missed out to New Zealand winger Rieko Ioane by 10 votes while Garry Ringrose was just 1% off outside centre choice Jonathan Davies.
The player that received most votes for one position was Irish tighthead Tadhg Furlong. Having done likewise with a BBC Team of the Year vote in 2017, it goes to show how highly regarded Furlong is.
On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby [from 28:30 below] host Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble marvelled over Furlong and his latest outing for Leinster.
"We all saw Tadhg Furlong standing at outhalf [against Bath]," said Murphy. "Jesus he must have been first receiver five or six times and creating space."
"I didn't even think it was Tadhg's best game for Leinster this season. He was quiet enough, but he was still there swiveling away and creating. Some going for a prop. What has become of the times?!"
Furlong has evolved his attacking game and added further improvements to his scrummaging this season too, causing the likes of New Zealand, Argentina and Bath all manner of issues in recent months.
'Decided by the Irish public'
So, when it came time for BT Sport pundits Austin Healey and Lawrence Dallaglio to debate the merits of the 'Best XV' voted for by the public, there were no complaints from the former England stars. When all was said and done, though, Healey and Dallaglio removed two Irish players and a Welshman from the team.
Asked by Ugo Monye if he was going to disagree with the team, Healey remarked:
"Mainly because it was decided by the Irish public, looking at all the votes!"
Overall, the former Leicester, England and Lions star was happy enough with the XV and argued that Conor Murray would have been a good shout for No.9 had injury not forced him to miss the November internationals. Healey was responsible for switching Ben Smith (NZ) for Davies at 13 in order to bring in France's Teddy Thomas on the right wing.
"Bundee Aki is a great player but I think Damien de Allende has had sensational autumn and, as a carrier, he is exactly the sort of player you want to play alongside. He makes breaks, causes dents in defences and really damages people."
Sounds exactly what Bundee Aki does too, but we'll not squabble over this.
What we would argue with is Dallaglio removing Cian Healy from the 'Best XV' front row. Dallaglio, who captained England to World Cup glory in 2003, was surprised there was only one New Zealand forward in the pack.
After praising Furlong, he added:
"No-one really likes a Healy in their team. As good as Healy is this is where he is most comfortable, on the replacements bench."
Dallaglio ended up replacing Healy with South Africa's Steven Kitshoff before mentioning Maro Itoje (England) and Justin Tipuric (Wales) as two forwards unlucky to miss out.
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