2007 was the first year that age-grade rugby switched its focus from under-21s to the newly-created under-20s and it was Ireland who struck Six Nations gold, clinching the Grand Slam with a 36-25 comeback victory over Italy in Benevento after earlier triumphs over Wales, France, England and Scotland.
Thirteen years have passed since that eye-catching success for Eric Elwood’s side, who came from 20-7 behind in the Italian sun in their final match to record their glory-sealing win over hosts who were permitted to field an under-21 team in the competition.
Not all of the Irish XV that March day went on to carve out a successful professional career in the game. Just three of those who did make it are still earning a wage on the pitch, but there were some notable success stories – one World Cup-winning coach, six Ireland Test players, two became British and Irish Lions players. And that is before you even factor in how Luke Fitzgerald and Sean O’Brien were off-limits that spring due to injury.
Here, RugbyPass goes through what became of the class of 2007:
15. Felix Jones
The silky left-footed full-back from Dublin went on to win 13 Test caps with Ireland where his move from Leinster to Munster in 2009 was the making of his career. A cruel neck injury forced his retirement in October 2015, but he quickly moved into coaching at the province, rising to the rank of attack coach. Snubbed a contract extension last May and was snapped up by Rassie Erasmus to fill the spot on the World Cup-winning Springboks coaching staff vacated by Swys de Bruin. Has since become the Boks’ European-based coaching consultant.
14. Shane Monahan
Having flirted with Leinster and Connacht, making a combined five appearances, a 2011 switch to Rotherham in the English Championship accelerated the winger’s reputation. An eleven-try haul brought the Drogheda-reared poacher to the attention of Premiership scouts and he went on to have three productive years at Gloucester, appearing 19 times in the top flight and scoring five league tries. Joined Munster as 2015 World Cup cover before knocking rugby on the head to launch his own company. His Limor app is a social audio platform allows users to create and share audio as a podcast.
13. Darren Cave
The centre won eleven Test caps, culminating in a start at the 2015 World Cup in front of a record tournament crowd in the Wembley win over Romania. Became a lynchpin in the Ulster midfield, helping them reach the 2012 Heineken Cup final and going on to become their joint record appearance holder on 229, the same as Andrew Trimble. Called it quits last summer at the age of 32 to focus on his Belfast-based cafe business, Guilt Free Coffee. Has also become a media pundit, appearing regularly on The Rugby Pod with Jim Hamilton and Andy Goode.
12. Aidan Wynne
The Co Offaly talent went on to make the grade at Connacht, spending four seasons at the club and making 43 league and cup appearances before stepping away and switching into the Irish grassroots scene with Buccaneers, Old Belvedere and Tullamore. Now works as a logistics coordinator at National Food Imports Ltd.
11. Keith Earls
Created headlines a few weeks ago when tweeting his concern about how some people in Ireland were failing to take the coronavirus threat seriously. A usually private individual, his strong message struck a chord reflective of the high standing people hold him in. Earned his first Ireland Test cap within 20 months of winning the age-grade Grand Slam and is still going strong now with 84 appearances. A long-term stalwart for Munster across 168 games and a 2009 British and Irish Lion, he overcame the trauma of an injury-hit few years which left him uncapped by Ireland for 29 months leading into the 2015 World Cup. He is centrally contracted with the IRFU through to summer 2021.
10. Ian Keatley
His Ireland career was restricted to just seven caps due to the queue at No10, his last appearance featuring a match-sealing kick versus Fiji in November 2017, but he has been a trooper at club level in making 269 league and cup appearances for Connacht, Munster and now Benetton, scoring a whopping 1,995 points along the way. Also enjoyed a fruitful pitstop at London Irish last season, kicking them to Championship glory before embarking on his two-year stint in Italy.
9. Paul O’Donohoe
Spent three seasons at Leinster before heading away to Connacht for a similar length spell. He then stepped away from the game having made 69 league and cup appearances, mostly as back-up scrum-half. Has since moved into a sales career in London, working at Pitch International and now CannGoods.
Ian Keatley on his move to Italy via London
'There were tears… it wasn't the way I wanted to leave Munster' https://t.co/CMqlEKZaxJ
— liam heagney (@heagneyl) March 3, 2019
8. David Pollock (capt)
The age-grade team’s skipper made the breakthrough at Ulster that same season, featuring in their Celtic League team, and he seemed set for a long career until injury brutally snuffed out his promise. He played 45 times and even skippered Ulster in a European match versus Stade Francais, but he was finished in 2010 when a surgeon told him his hip was no longer going to stand up to the rigours of professional rugby. Took some time out before returning to education and having since achieved qualifications in medicine, his latest goal is to become a consultant in radiology.
7. Kevin Sheahan
A talent who suffered from the galaxy of back row riches Ireland produced around that time. Dabbled with rugby in America and Italy before becoming a regular on the All-Ireland league circuit. Now works in the diagnostic radiology department at hospitals in Cork.
6. Thomas Anderson
The son of ex-Ireland skipper Willie, whose daring in going nose-to-nose with the All Blacks’ haka in 1989 has aged well on YouTube. TJ tried to make the grade at his native Ulster, making 20 Celtic League appearances in three seasons before giving Connacht a whirl for two years. He called it quits in 2013 to pursue a legal career that has taken him to London where he is currently operations director at JW Anderson.
— Andrew Browne (@Brownetown87) March 24, 2020
5. Andrew Browne
The lock enjoyed a lengthy career at Connacht, the province that also gave his older brother Damian his start in the pro ranks. Clocked up 156 league and cup appearances, the highlight being the 2016 PRO12 title win, before stepping away in summer 2018. Has remained in rugby, becoming head coach at club side Galwegians while studying at NUI Galway.
4. Conor McInerney
Went on to learn the ropes in the Leinster academy before taking the plunge with a 2009 switch to Ospreys. However, he was forced into retirement at the age of 24 without ever playing much, a knee injury felling him. Has since carved out a career in banking and currently works in London with Nomura’s capital commitments division.
3. Jamie Hagan
An Ireland one-capper, the tighthead made his sole Test appearance versus USA In 2013. The Dubliner has enjoyed a transient career that is still going, Pro D2 outfit Beziers the latest pit-stop in an adventure that has featured stints at Connacht, Leinster, London Irish and Melbourne Rebels.
2. Richard Sweeney
Had a very short-lived stint at Coventry in 2009 but left to take up a university place in Dublin at the Royal College of Surgeons. Has since forged a career in medicine where he now works in anaesthetics at Cappagh Orthopaedic hospital.
1. Cian Healy
The loosehead has gone on to enjoy a stellar career on a par with 2007 age-grade team-mate Earls. He has earned 98 Ireland Test caps, toured with the British and Irish Lions, won multiple honours with Leinster, whom he has played for on 216 occasions, and is centrally contracted with the IRFU until summer 2021. Nerve damage nearly forced him into retirement but he bounced back to make the 2015 World Cup and hasn’t looked back since.
16. Kyle Tonetti, 17. Ruaidhri Murphy, 18. Neilus Keogh, 19. Eoghan Grace, 20. David Drake, 21. Ger Slattery, 22. Niall O’Connor. Fitzgerald and O’Brien were also part of that year’s squad but missed out through injury.
Nearly all the bench had varying careers in pro rugby. Tonetti, for instance, played for Sale while Murphy featured at the Super Rugby Brumbies. Drake still works in the game, last year becoming Ulster’s senior athletic performance coach, while New York-based O’Connor caddied for pal golfer Rory McIlroy last November. The exploits of Fitzgerald and O’Brien need no introduction, both going on to star for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions. O’Brien is still in the game with London Irish and is due to publish his autobiography later this year.
WATCH: Billy Vunipola chats to Jim Hamilton in the latest episode of The Lockdown, the new RugbyPass series
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