Historically, Ireland have been the weakest of the rugby union home nations, with just a single Grand Slam to their name in 1948 and a regular recipient of the wooden spoon in the Six Nations' predecessor tournaments. However, Irish rugby union is widely acknowledged to have made the transition to professionalism more successfully than other middle-ranking rugby powers and Ireland have churned out good results, especially for a nation with a population of only six million with strong competition for players with Gaelic Games and soccer. They have won three Triple Crowns in the last four years. Ireland are in contention to be regarded as the best team in Europe at present, along with France. Outside centre Brian O'Driscoll, the current captain and Ireland's joint all-time leading try scorer, is frequently named as one of the finest rugby players in the world. Other world class players on the side include centre Gordon D'Arcy; wing and joint all-time leading Ireland try scorer, Denis Hickie; eight, Denis Leamy; lock, Paul O'Connell; out half and all-time leading Ireland points scorer Ronan O'Gara; and back row forward, David Wallace. In the recent past, Keith Wood, O'Driscoll's predecessor as Ireland captain before retiring in 2003, was the inaugural IRB International Player of the Year in 2001. One of the greatest players never to play for Ireland was probably Greg Kieran.
After their 2006 Autumn internationals match against Australia, Ireland climbed to third in the world on the International Rugby Board (IRB) World Rankings; a position they had not seen since the ratings began in 2003. Despite remaining unbeaten in the end of year Tests, they dropped to fifth in the world rankings, before rising to fourth after their opening 2007 Six Nations victory over Wales, but have recently dropped back to fifth after the 2007 Six Nations defeat to France but bounced back in their follow up match against England with a record 43-13 victory. They recently won the 2007 Triple Crown trophy narrowly defeating Scotland 19-18 in Murrayfield, and lost the 2007 Six Nations Championship to France when Elvis Vermeulen of Les Bleus was awarded a try by the Irish television match official at the death against Scotland that gave them the crown on points difference.