It’s been a great season for Irish teams in the Guinness PRO12, with Munster looking to pay fitting tribute to Anthony Foley with victory in Saturday’s final in Dublin.
While it won’t be an all-Irish affair, after Leinster fell at the semi-final stage, there have been plenty of star performers across the four provinces – this is the best of the Irish contingent in this year’s tournament.
15. Tiernan O’Halloran – Connacht
The 26-year-old O’Halloran scored a try as Connacht won the final last year and has built on that with some brilliant displays at the back this season. Leading the way in terms of metres run, he is a potent attacking threat who won his first international cap last year.
14. Adam Byrne – Leinster
The latest player to come out of the Leinster academy, this was a breakthrough season for Byrne, who racked up seven tries in 14 starts and established himself as a genuine weapon out wide for Leinster. James Lowe might be on his way from New Zealand next year but Byrne will be a key figure going forward.
13. Garry Ringrose – Leinster
What a year it’s been for Ringrose who was arguably unlucky to miss out on Lions selection. Now established at club and international level, his magnificent individual score in a European semi-final against Clermont underlined his immense potential. It’s hard to believe he’s still only 22.
12. Rory Scannell – Munster
Continuing the theme of youth in this team, Scannell has built on an impressive season avoiding any sophomore slump in the Munster midfield. Rewarded with a call-up to the Ireland squad for the Six Nations, he should make his international debut this summer – he’ll be hoping to have some silverware before then!
11. Jacob Stockdale – Ulster
A contender for the league’s top try-scorer for much of the season, Stockdale was eventually beaten by Steff Evans, but the former Ireland Under-20s star made an impressive transition to the Ulster senior side. Nine tries in all was an impressive return for Stockdale.
10. Joey Carbery – Leinster
Given his debut at the start of the season, the New Zealand-born Carbery made such an impressive start to his senior Leinster career that he was on the pitch when Ireland beat the All Blacks for the very first time in Chicago. Comfortable at fly-half or full-back, he was named the Guinness PRO12 Young Player of the Season.
9. Kieran Marmion – Connacht
A promising player for a number of years in Galway, Marmion seized his opportunity this season, most notably in the green of Ireland. Stepping in for an injured Conor Murray, he helped down Grand Slam-chasing England, and has also been an influential figure in Pat Lam’s last season at Connacht.
1. Dave Kilcoyne – Munster
Part of an all-Munster front row, Kilcoyne might be third in the pecking order at international level, but he continues to produce big performances at Thomond Park. Named in the Guinness PRO12 Dream Team, his battle with Samson Lee in the final could be crucial.
2. Niall Scannell – Munster
One of the success stories at Munster this season, Scannell has gone from third choice at provincial level to backing up Ireland captain Rory Best. Still only 25, he will be keen to cement that position in Best’s absence this summer for the tour to North America and Japan.
3. John Ryan – Munster
Completing the Munster trio up front, Ryan is another who has stepped up impressively this season. While there may have been concerns about the tighthead spot coming into the season, Ryan has come into his own, so much so that he is now a regular in the Ireland set-up and was man of the match in a European quarter-final against Toulouse.
4. Donnacha Ryan – Munster
A departing hero, Ryan bowed out at Thomond Park with an immense display against the Ospreys, and he will be sorely missed as he leaves for Racing 92. The heart of the Munster pack, he has been a true leader through a difficult season and will be a key figure in the final against the Scarlets.
5. Iain Henderson – Ulster
Comfortable in the second row and the back row, Henderson’s form this season earned him a Lions call-up from Warren Gatland. One of the best carrying second rows around, he started the win over England in Dublin in March and has been a crucial figure for Ulster this season.
6. Jack Conan – Leinster
Arguably more of a No.8, but versatile enough to slot in at six, Conan is another example of the huge depth Leinster have in the back row. With eight Irish international back-rowers, Leo Cullen has plenty of options but with his ball-carrying and dynamism around the park, it’s hard to ignore Conan.
7. Dan Leavy – Leinster
Another promising Leinster back-rower, Leavy is only 22 but has already got two caps under his belt, including in victory over England in Dublin in March. A relentless tackler, Leavy has stepped up when Sean O’Brien has been missing and was deservedly named in the Guinness PRO12 Dream Team alongside Conan.
8. CJ Stander – Munster
The second Lion named in the team, Stander collects man-of-the-match awards for fun and seems to be constantly improving. Having really bought into the Munster ethos, he is a born leader and will be crucial to their hopes against the Scarlets this weekend.