Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey may have just picked up his first ever international cap but his convincing performance won him the title of most exciting up-and-coming player in Ulster as revealed in a survey released today by Ulster Bank, sponsors of club rugby in Ireland.
When asked what they thought of rising talent in the country, Irish fans also voted Jack O’Donoghue (Munster), Gary Ringrose (Leinster), and Ultan Dillane (Connacht) as the ‘ones to watch’ in their respective provinces.
In spite of the recent RBS 6 Nations showdown between Ireland and England being one to forgot for the boys in green, it has been revealed that our most memorable moment with our English neighbours is the 2007 match played in Croke Park. As the anthems played and John Hayes’ face streamed with tears, Ireland supporters watched as history was made. The famous moment secured over a third of the votes with Shane Horgan’s Triple Crown-winning try at Twickenham the previous season in 2006 coming a close second with 25%.
Staying with the home nations, when fans were asked which other RBS 6 Nations player they would like to claim for Ireland, Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny topped the leaderboard while English captain Dylan Hartley was perhaps unsurprisingly in the relegation zone with just 3% of the votes. The survey, which generated 1,172 responses from every county across the island of Ireland, also revealed that the Scottish are the best fans to interact with (44%) while the Welsh came a close second (38%).
The Ulster Bank Annual Survey also revealed the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff as our favourite away venue in the RBS 6 Nations with half of the votes. Despite our opinion of Warren Gatland for dropping Brian O’Driscoll on the Lions tour, it seems we’re still fans of the venue. Asked if we had to choose one of the other RBS 6 Nations coaches, Gatland secured 40% of the votes with Eddie Jones coming second (32%).
In one of the more light-hearted moments of 2015, Luke Fitzgerald’s ‘fresh-air’ golf shot in front of the world’s number one golfer, Rory McIlroy, during the Rugby World Cup was voted as our favourite social media moment of the year. With almost half a million views on YouTube the Irish back had over 40% of the votes while 22% of voters felt Ulster joker Paddy Jackson’s hilarious Instagram videos should earn the top spot.
Rory McIlroy also featured in the survey but claimed last place when fans were asked what Irish person from another sporting discipline would make a good addition to the Irish rugby team. Rory received just 2% of the votes while Dublin GAA star Bernard Brogan beat off both Conor McGregor and local boxer Paddy Barnes with a third of the votes. If McGregor was to ever take up the sport respondents thought he would make a great scrum-half (43%).
Moving from MMA to WWE, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was voted as the international celebrity who would make the best rugby player (32%) while English actor Jason Statham also made the list with a fifth of the votes. Asked if an Irish actor was to play Johnny Sexton’s life story, a quarter of respondents thought Cillian Murphy fitted the bill with Colin Farrell a close second.
When it comes to our love of Paul O’Connell, his recent retirement has only cemented his place in history. O’Connell managed to claim two titles in this year’s Ulster Bank Annual Survey; retired player from the past five years to make the best coach (48%) and the forward we would bring back from the last 20 years (54%) beating off Keith Wood (23%), Stephen Ferris (8%) and John ‘The Bull’ Hayes (5%).
Unsurprisingly Brian O’Driscoll was voted as the back we would like to see return to the team with two thirds of the vote and even though Ronan O’Gara also featured on the list with 13% he fared better in the coach’s stakes with a fifth of fans thinking he would make the best coach of retired players in the past five years.
When it comes to watching a match nothing gets in the way with the respondents admitting to; ignoring their phone and the doorbell (51%), cancelling plans with their partner (22%), avoiding family members (22%) and even calling in sick to work (5%).
This is the third year of the Ulster Bank Annual Survey as Ulster Bank continue their longstanding support of rugby in Ireland. Ulster Bank will remain the title sponsors of the All-Ireland League until 2018 as well as Official Community Rugby Partner to the IRFU.