IT WILL always tug on a club’s heartstrings when one of their most loyal players reaches retirement, though when Declan Danaher hung up his boots in March, the London Irish fans sent him off with the fondest of farewells. He’s now coaching the club’s academy, and after 15 years of playing in the Premiership, he’s seen some of rugby’s greatest talents come and go. So we went to interrupt his new job to ask the man who made 275 Premiership appearances to pick the most talented 15 he’d ever played with or against…

Bulldozer: Sheridan on the charge

Bulldozer: Sheridan on the charge

Loosehead Prop – Andrew Sheridan

“The man’s a monster, around the field but especially in the scrum. When he was in his prime there was no one better, and when we played Sale I knew what was coming – a tough day at the office for the pack.”

Hooker – David Paice

“He’s one of the most underrated hookers there is. His lineout throwing is his greatest strength, and I don’t think many are better, but he’s also a good ball-carrier. He’s been a good friend and a one-club man. Times have changed now, but Paicey would have had offers to go elsewhere, and I think the fans realise how much commitment and effort it takes to remain loyal to one club.”

Tighthead Prop – Faan Rautenbach

“When he was there, the scrum just wouldn’t move. But he was also excellent at hitting rucks. There was no one better at clearing them out than him.”

Dynamic duo: Casey (tackling O'Gara) and Kennedy formed a successful partnership

Dynamic duo: Casey and Kennedy wrap up O’Gara

Second Row – Bob Casey

“He was a great leader, and did a lot for the club. It was obvious to everyone what it meant to him to play for London Irish, and you can’t underestimate the attention to detail he gave to our lineout, and the oppositions’.”

Second Row – Nick Kennedy

“What a combination he and Bob were. It’s rare for clubs to have that, a pairing who complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m so happy for him that he went to Toulon and won the Heineken Cup, and I’ve even forgiven him for coming back and not playing for us! Another massively underrated player, only the England coaches will know why they’ve overlooked him.”

Club and country: Dallaglio and Worsley with the Challenge Cup

Club & country: Dallaglio and Worsley

Blindside Flanker – Joe Worsley

“He’s won Heineken Cups and Premierships, a great tackler and unbelievable defender. And of course a World Cup winner.”

Openside Flanker – Richie McCaw

“I was lucky enough to face him when I played for England U19s, and from just one game I learned so much about myself. We shook hands after the match, I got his shirt and gave it to my brother… who lost it!”

No 8 – Lawrence Dallaglio

“When I was growing up I didn’t know much about rugby, but I knew who Lawrence was because I went to watch Wasps a few times when I was around 16. He was an incredible athlete, and like Joe has won everything. He was a great leader with a lot of confidence, and I’m not sure Wasps would’ve done what they did without him.”

Chatterbox: Hodgson drove standards

Chatterbox: Hodgson drove the standards

Scrum-half – Paul Hodgson

“He’s the best defensive nine I’ve ever played with, and his work-rate is incredible. He’s a chatterbox, as all good scrum-halves are, and is another one from London Irish’s golden period when we reached the Premiership Final in 2009. He was very influential in the way we played and he would drive the standards in training.”

Fly-half – Mike Catt

“It’s not his preferred position, but I’ve got another 12! I learned a lot about myself after Catty joined us in 2004. He was a force, and dictated the style in which we played, but most importantly he instilled a belief in us. You can see he’s doing the same for England now.”

Support system: Bishop runs with the ball, can you recognise the England coach next to him?!

Support system: Bishop is supported by Catt

Wing – Justin Bishop

“He did a lot for the club, especially in defence. His work-rate and enthusiasm were second to none, and he’s got more caps than anyone else at London Irish. He had out and out speed, then he did his ankle and he lost some of that, but he adapted himself from this attacking wing to a brilliant defensive operator. Brendan Ventor brought out the best in him.”

Inside Centre – Seilala Mapusua

“An all-round unbelievable player, he could do everything in terms of attack and defence. I played against him as well, he was in the same New Zealand U19s year as McCaw. We had so many Islanders at London Irish when he was here, he was like their chief. They’re not always an easy bunch to manage, but he did an excellent job of it.”

Outside Centre – Brian O’Driscoll

“It’s all been said before, and it was only right that he had such a fantastic send-off with Ireland a few weeks ago. We beat Leinster the year in the Heineken Cup in 2009, the year they went on to win the competition, but on and off the field Brian is the ultimate professional and a lovely guy. He took Leinster to the next level, but the way he looked after himself was also a lesson.”

Try guy: Armitage and Danaher enjoy a London Irish try

Try guy: Armitage and Danaher enjoy a try

Wing – Delon Armitage

“For his will to win and finding a way to do it. I’ve missed out his brother Steffon for McCaw, but they’re an excellent pairing. Delon can kick goals, he’s got a hell of a step on him and he can defend. He’s also the most loyal friend and team-mate. If you offer him loyalty, he’ll give it back to you.”

Full-back – Geordan Murphy

“I’ve played against him so many times, and he’s another with a real will to win. He’s driven Leicester’s standards, but is also a nice guy off the pitch. I see him around occasionally because he’s coaching at Leicester now, and he’s not changed one bit – we have a good old natter!”