Wizards Of Oz – Five Australian Imports Who Changed Irish Rugby
While the Irish heading to Australia is a pretty well-established pattern at this point, there’s been more than a few to make the opposite journey – and our rugby is all the better for it! Aussie arrivals have been important to Irish rugby both on- and off-field, so as the summer test series between the nations kicks off on Saturday, exclusively live on Sky Sports, we pay tribute to a handful of Down Under’s finest…
Born in Brisbane, the versatile prop was a godsend at a time when Ireland was struggling for front-row talent. The Ulster player began as a top-class shot-putter, and almost made the Olympics in 2004, but soon found the rugby pitch calling. He was a member of the Grand Slam winning side in 2009, and even became a late call-up to the Lions tour of the country of his birth four years later, before hanging up his boots last summer.
Another proud member of the front-row union, the Connacht loose-head was a regular visitor to his grandmother’s birthplace of Fermanagh before he decided to make the switch on a full-time basis. It proved to be a pretty good call, too; whether picking up a Pro12 medal on club duty a few years ago, or appearing in a different shade of green during the famous win over the All Blacks in Chicago, there’s been plenty to celebrate!
The towering lock’s Test caps with Australia meant he never had the chance to wear the green of Ireland; no matter, Munster fans will say, when his impact on the club game was as profound as it was! Joining the southern province shortly after the dawn of professionalism, he implemented a work ethic and attitude that had rarely been seen in these parts, paving the way for Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer, Paul O’Connell et al to make their marks in the years after.
He might be plotting our downfall this month, but the Australian coach is still fondly remembered by Leinster fans, masterminding their first European title back in 2009. That winner’s medal went alongside a Celtic League prize from the previous year, and was seen as just desserts for a man who went about changing the culture and mindset of a side who went on to dominate continental competition for the decade since…
Here’s a man who managed to rack up the frequent flyer miles! Born in Dublin, his family relocated Down Under when he was just a child, and his early career saw him rise to become captain of the Australian under-21 team. He retraced his parents’ steps, though, in joining Leinster in 2001 – and quickly gained a reputation as one of the finest out-and-out openside flankers that this country has ever known.
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