From Ireland's most effective and underrated to the great DC: Tony Ward's top 10s

One of Ireland’s finest out-halves talks us through some of his favourite rugby protagonists.

‘TIS THE SEASON for long fireside chats that roll and ebb as naturally as a reindeer’s course through the clear and crisp night sky.

So put down that turkey carcass, untangle yourself from that holly, kick the snow off your boots and sidle up here to chat with one of Ireland’s finest number 10s about his favourite peers, predecessors and successors in the number 10 jersey.

Tony Ward Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Even when you consider Tony Ward as a man who has overcome cancer and is still involved in coaching at schools level, his enthusiasm bursts through when he speaks about rugby. He is in the middle of a heavy day of promoting his book Twelve Feet Tall with rain battering the window and the hands on his watch rapidly pulling time away, but Ward just can’t help but keep talking energetically about out-halves, what makes them, what makes them great and, here, his favourites.

This is not a ranking, or a countdown, just an excellent international out-half chatting about some of the men he sees as being in the pantheon. If that opinion is Irish-tinged, so-ho-ho-what?

Dan Carter, the best you’ve ever seen?

“He probably is. He is a complete player, defensively he is so good.

Ruddy Darter / YouTube

“I’m not sure he was player of the year, I thought that was pushing it, a bit like Brian O’Driscoll not getting it in 2009 when Richie McCaw got it… it’s subjective. But I thought if you wanted to see everything that made Dan Carter the incredible talent that he is, that World cup final was it. Because when they were struggling a little bit in the second half, he grabbed that game

There was a shot of him when he kicked the ball down the left to the 22, and he looked around, he’s not a very demonstrative player, but he was roaring at the players. And you just thought, there’s an example of real leadership in the white heat of battle.”

(Here’s the moment Ward is talking about: 67 minutes on the board, Australia are back to within four points and Carter is cleaning up after Israel Folau returned a poor Beauden Barrett kick for territory. What’s more, look closely and you’ll see that the man Carter picks out to roar at isn’t just some rookie, it’s Richie McCaw.)

dc rousing

“Over the course of his career, which is the real test, I find it difficult to think of anyone better.”

‘Ronan is very underrated…’

“ROG didn’t get the credit he deserved as a distributor. He was brilliant at putting players into a hole, I’m sure Brian O’Driscoll would agree.

rog pass So damn smooth.

“He was a beautiful passer off either side, whether it was a floated long pass or a disguised short pass, he was very good at putting guys into the gaps.”

And when you mention ROG, you have to bring up Sexton…

“Something about Johnny that’s very different, he went to Mary’s as well as Paul Dean and I. Now, I could kick the leather off the ball whenever the need arose, but in Mary’s you practice in the back yard and there’s very little space.

Dan Carter shakes hands with Jonathan Sexton James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“You play tip rugby and you really struggle and that helps us because you’re working to find space where there is no space. But when I first saw Johnny as a junior, he was a different Mary’s out-half in that he could kick.

“Johnny was always an outstanding kicker right from 14-1 5 years of age, but I didn’t see the runner in him.

“He came into the pro game and, though I haven’t spoken to him about this, I’ve no doubt that Felipe Contepomi had a huge influence on Johnny.

“What I admire about him is that he evolved his game, he had the kicking, but developed the wider game in tandem with the tutoring I presume he got along the way has developed him into a well-rounded out-half on the back of that.

RBS 6 Nations / YouTube

“Defences are beginning to read him though, the wrap-around is forcing a sweeper to go across the field waiting for it to happen, that was inevitable that defence coach would come up with something to counter it. He’s right up there as well, he has to be.

“I know people go on about a few kicks he’s missed, one against the All Blacks being the obvious one, but he has a great temperament, great big match temperament and he’s narky… himself and ROG are very similar in that regard.”

Another stand-out in the memory: Phil Bennett

bennett try

“I would have been a big fan of Phil Bennett, who was a different type of player. He was so exciting, but it was a different age and there was so much space on the field, but by God did he maximise that space.

rubberlegged / YouTube

“I loved the way Benny used that space, he was a dancer, I would have been influenced by him.”

‘At his absolute best, he was as good an out-half as we’ve ever had’

“I think we’ve had some very good out-halves and in different ways… Eric Elwood, I liked to think I was a bit like him.

“He wore the heart on his sleeve. He went on the field, he was in control, he was emotive. He was a leader on the field and in his coaching he’s the same, maybe it’s something in his western background.


“David Humphreys is possibly the most underrated out-half we’ve had. In his pomp, his absolute best, was as good an out-half as we’ve ever had. He had all the bits that Ronan had, that Deano had: beautiful distributor, great kicker, tactically aware all that sort of stuff. But what he did over and above was that he always threatened the opposition back row, he was capable of breaking.


“It meant that not only that the outside backs had to be alert, but the back row weren’t able to fan across the field on the assumption that he’d just pass it on. I think Humphreys, at his best, was underrated and was a better out-half than he was ever given credit for.”

This is normally where we ask you to pick a favourite, but hey, it’s Christmas! How about just appreciating all the talented out-halves we’ve been treated to over the years instead?

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