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'It's mad': BT Sport rugby pundits name Premiership Immortals XV

By Liam Heagney
Leicester's Dan Cole (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Six current top-flight players – Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Danny Care, Owen Farrell and the retiring Chris Ashton – have gained selection in the Premiership Immortals XV chosen by a BT Sport panel consisting of Lawrence Dallaglio, Austin Healey, Ugo Monye and Ben Kay.

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All four pundits named their own individual XVs in recent days before the selection process culminated in a near-hour-long round-table debate that resulted in Dallaglio convincing his three colleagues he merited the No8 shirt in the XV celebrating 20 years of Premiership finals.

In total, 11 England internationals made the cut, but there were also places for Ireland’s Geordan Murphy, Samoa’s Alesana Tuilagi, Argentina’s Marcos Ayerza and South Africa’s Schalk Brits.

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Wilkinson vs Farrell

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Wilkinson vs Farrell

Monye was pleased with the firepower across the team. “You can play any way in which you want to play,” he beamed. “When you have so much quality in that forward pack and when you have got this once-in-a-generation player in Schalk Brits who is more likely to play in the backs, it just allows you so many different options because the quality of front-foot ball and the speed of ball allows these people to do what they want to do.”

Kay added: “You’d batter them [the opposition] and then you have got two generals there [Care and Farrell] who have the vision and the command of their forward pack because that is really important because when you have got a forward pack like that. If you have got a weak nine and 10, they don’t get the ball back. But if you have got people that get what they want, we have got a lot of space out wide for these guys to exploit.”

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Many of the selection debates were easily settled but two positions that took quite a while to settle were tighthead and full-back. Here is how the back and forth went regarding the No3 shirt, starting with a discussion on the merits of Martin Castrogiovanni:

Kay: I went with Castro. Castro now playing how he used to then in this era this year would still have as big an impact. Very, very good scrummager. The scrummaging has become less important. It is still a factor, but it was a major part of a tighthead’s game (back then)… but he had everything else. He had hands and he became a big global superstar playing in the Premiership and great fun to be around as well.

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Monye: I agree with it, not because of his rugby stuff but any lad that can survive a weekend with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Las Vegas deserves to be picked.

Kay: The other great stories are he was only allowed to take up rugby because he punched a basketball referee. He wasn’t allowed to play rugby, so he deliberately got himself banned for life by punching the basketball referee. And the cycling shorts he wore, he used to strap his legs up and told his grandmother he had bad hamstrings because he had tattoos and didn’t want her to know.

Healey: I still maintain that if he and Darren Garforth were in the same squad, Castrogiovanni would not have played on the Saturday. It is really hard, the tighthead is really tough. It depends on what your criteria is. If it is for scrummaging, you probably have to go Dan Cole. If it was ability around the park, you would probably go Castro. If it was intelligence you’d go (Will) Green. If it was outright hardness and being a psychopath, never took a backward step, you’d go Garforth.

Monye: I selected Dan Cole in my team. When you talk about longevity and consider what they have to do, it’s remarkable every one of them, but Dan Cole has been a totem for Leicester. He has straddled a couple of different spheres within that time.

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Dallaglio: You have got to admire someone who has been to the top, stayed there for such a long time, got picked for England in the World Cup, it didn’t work out, gone back to his club, worked even harder and then got himself in the shape of his life, whatever shape that is.

The chat ultimately resulted in Cole getting selected, and the lengthy debate was repeated at full-back with Murphy contesting selection with Saracens’ Alex Goode. Here is how this particular debate played out:

Kay: The great thing about Geordie is that we see so many players come into the Premiership with a box of tricks, so much talent but they overuse it. He was a brilliant tactical player, aerially fantastic, but he would only pull out those moments of brilliance when it was on and when there was an opportunity. He still did stuff that I haven’t seen replicated since like that time against Northampton when he chipped it to himself. Alex Goode has been an unbelievable servant for Saracens as well.

Healey: A big decision here. That is too difficult a call at 15 because they are both sensational and very, very similar. But what could be a different conversation is if you took Ashton out and put Murphy in (on the wing), you might have a better balance in your back three. It’s not easy.

Monye: Mike Brown for me would be part of the conversation but when you look at records and tries and when you look at trophies that are won, that for me was the difference. Mike Brown was one of the best players I played with, but I went for Alex Goode because he is someone that can connect the dots in the backline and improve the ability of every single player because of his vision. You have effectively got an international 10 playing from the back, so his kick, pass, run options are phenomenal, his longevity, the amount of trophies that he has won, he is the type of player through his actions just made everyone better.

Dallaglio: It’s so hard. I chose Geordie because emotionally I played against him. He would be there. Alex Goode is not necessarily the same.

Monye: I selected Alex Goode in my team but it’s mad, everything I said about Alex Goode I could have said about Geordan Murphy. I truly could have. That is what makes it so difficult. It would be easier if they were both that exceptional but different style players.

In the end, Key and Dallaglio voted first for Murphy, Monye plumped for Goode and this left Healey with the final say. “I’ll pick Geordie.”

BT Sport Premiership Immortals XV: 15. Geordan Murphy; 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Fraser Waters, 12. Brad Barritt, 11. Alesana Tuilagi; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Danny Care; 1. Marcos Ayerza, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. Dan Cole, 4. Martin Johnson (capt), 5. Maro Itoje, 6. Courtney Lawes, 7. Neil Back, 8. Lawrence Dallaglio.

  • Watch BT Sport’s Premiership Immortals on BT Sport 1 from 1pm on Saturday, May 27, to see who makes the greatest Premiership XV of all time. The final episode will be followed by BT Sport’s exclusive live coverage of the Gallagher Premiership final from 2pm on BT Sport 1 btsport.com/immortals
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