Rugby union in Ireland: Wikis


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Rugby union in Ireland
Munster rugby 2006.jpg
Munster fans watching the 2005-06 Heineken Cup final on the streets of Limerick.
Governing body Irish Rugby Football Union
National team Ireland
First played 1869, Dublin
Registered players 100,974
 - Rugby World Cup
 - Six Nations
 - Rugby World Cup Sevens
 - IRB Sevens World Series
 - Magners League
 - Heineken Cup
 - AIB League
 - European Challenge Cup
 - British and Irish Cup

Rugby union is a popular team sport played in Ireland. The sport is organised on an all-Ireland basis with one team, governing body and league for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland is the third oldest rugby nation after England and Scotland respectively, and the game was organised there before Wales.


Governing body

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) are the governing body for rugby union in Ireland. The IRFU is divided into five branches. The four main branches represent the four provinces of Ireland: Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht. Each provincial branch organises the sport within its geographic area. All four field senior teams that compete in the Magners League, and all except Connacht field "A" teams in the semi-professional British and Irish Cup. The fifth branch is the Exiles Branch, tasked with identifying and developing players living in England, Scotland and Wales who are qualified to represent Ireland through their ancestry.

Initially, there were two unions both founded in 1874 - the Irish Football Union had jurisdiction over clubs in Leinster, Munster and parts of Ulster; the Northern Football Union of Ireland controlled the Belfast area. The IRFU was formed in 1879 as an amalgamation of these two organisations and branches of the new IRFU were formed in Leinster, Munster and Ulster. The Connacht Branch was formed in 1886.

The IRFU was a founding member of the International Rugby Board in 1886 with Scotland and Wales. (England refused to join until 1890).




Ireland had a strong tradition of folk football games long before the various forms of modern football such as rugby, association football, and Gaelic football were codified. The local varieties were often quite different from one another, and some bore more resemblence to certain modern codes than others:

"Other texts suggest that Co.s Meath, Louth and north Dublin were football strongholds during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The poem Iomáin Léana an Bhábhdhúin by Réamann Ó Murchada describes an eight-a-side football game in Omeath in 1750, which lasted from midday to sunset.
"Different versions of football were played in various parts of the country. Games were played between parishes or between Baronies and would sometimes last for hours. However there was no organised form fo the game, and little interaction between the various regions. The rules also varied according to region, some games being more disciplined than others. The number of players varied from place to place, though the basic principle of moving the ball from one end of the field to the other remained the same."[1]

Occasionally the ball in these games would resemble a rugby ball:

"The ball was generally round, but that depended on the materials used, sometimes it was oval, but by accident, rather than design."[1]

According to Jack Mahon, even in the Irish countryside, the traditional sport of caid had begun to give way to a "rough-and-tumble game" which even allowed tripping.

Late 19th century

During the 1860s and 1870s, rugby, along with association football, started to become popular in Ireland. Trinity College, Dublin was an early stronghold of rugby.

The early days of Irish rugby union were dominated by unionists, though legend goes that the locals only played the sport only because they wanted to beat the English at their own game.

Rugby and the GAA

During the late nineteenth century, in response to the perceived encroachment of English sports including rugby, Irish nationalist Michael Cusack set up the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). [2] To this day, Rule 42 of the GAA's Official Guide forbids prohibits the playing of non-Gaelic games in GAA stadiums, including rugby[3]. However, the rule has been relaxed while Lansdowne Road is being redeveloped, and rugby has now been played in Croke Park[4] including a match between Leinster and Munster that broke the club rugby attendence record; see List of non-Gaelic games played in Croke Park for exceptions to this rule.

The first game to take place under the relaxed Rule 42 took place on 11 February 2007. It was a Six Nations Championship rugby union match between Ireland and France which Ireland lost 17–20.[5] The following match against England generated some controversy, since it involved the playing of God Save the Queen at a ground where British soldiers had killed fourteen spectators on Bloody Sunday, 1920.[6][7] There was a small protest by Republican Sinn Féin outside the ground which included a man holding a sign saying No to foreign games while ironically wearing a Celtic FC tracksuit. [8][9][10]

20th century

Although rugby union has traditionally been associated with the more anglophile elements of Irish society, it has not been without its following in the nationalist and republican communities. For example, the longest serving taoiseach, Éamon de Valera was a former player, and lifetime fan of the game. At the age of sixteen, De Valera won a scholarship to Blackrock College, County Dublin. It was at Blackrock College that de Valera began playing rugby. Later during his tenure at Rockwell College, he joined the school's rugby team where he played fullback on the first team, which reached the final of the Munster Senior Cup. De Valera was a close friend of the Ryan brothers at Rockwell who played on Ireland's Triple Crown-winning team in 1899. De Valera went on to play for the Munster rugby team in the mid 1900s in the fullback position and remained a lifelong devotee of rugby, attending numerous international matches up to and towards the end of his life despite near blindness.

Other notable politicians, from very different backgrounds, who have played Irish rugby include Tyrone Howe (who was a UUP councillor) and Dick Spring.

Present day


Nowadays, rugby union is played by both nationalists and unionists. Historically, it tended to be popular with different social groups in different parts of Ireland, although generally speaking it is regarded as a middle-class sport in Ireland and further afield. In Limerick City, it is enjoyed across the social spectrum game, while in Leinster, Cork City and Connacht it remains very much a middle-class game. In Northern Ireland it is traditionally played in mainly-middle-class Protestant grammar schools. The changing climate in Northern Ireland politics has altered this perceived tradition with the introduction of rugby union into an increasing number of Roman Catholic grammar and secondary schools which were previously exclusively associated with Gaelic games.[citation needed] It is true to say overall that currently the vast majority of players representing the professional teams of all of the provinces of Ireland come from middle-class backgrounds.[citation needed]

The conversion of rugby from amateurism to professionalism led to the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) using the provincial structure to create four professional teams, with the Irish players on these teams on central contracts to the IRFU, meaning that they, and not the provinces, control when the players play and when they rest. Professionalism has, on the whole, been very good for the top level of Irish rugby.[citation needed] The national team has won several triple crowns and is able to play at a competitive level with the world's rugby giants, having beaten all but New Zealand in the last five years.[11]

Ireland's provinces have also been successful in the professional era. Ulster won the European Cup in 1999, and for the last five years Munster and Leinster have regularly featured in the latter stages of the competition, culminating in Munster's wins in 2006 and 2008 and Leinster's in 2009. In the Magners League the provinces are either regular winners or near the top of the league, especially Leinster, in the last 5 seasons Leinster have been featured in the top 3 teams in the Magners league. In 2006, the big three Irish provinces finished in the top three places of the league, Ulster claiming the title with a dramatic last second drop goal ensuring they finished above Leinster. Each of the big three has won the league at least once—Leinster won the first-ever title of what was then the Celtic League in 2002 and again in 2008, Ulster won it for the first and only time in 2006, and Munster won in 2003 and 2009.

The level below the provinces, the clubs, has probably suffered somewhat in the professional era. Top players play almost exclusively for their provinces with only rare outings for clubs, usually as a result of returning from injury or loss of form. Changes are underway in the club structure to try and make it more attractive, whilst maintaining club ethos.

The game was played in Croke Park on 2 May 2009, when Leinster defeated Munster 25–6. The attendance of 82,208 set a new world record attendance for a club rugby union game. [12]


See also Irish rugby union system

The Irish National team competes in the Six Nations tournament and Summer and Autumn tests series's which are held every year, and also The Rugby World Cup which is held every four years. The Ireland "A" (second-level) national team, from February 2010 known as Ireland Wolfhounds, have in the past competed in a smaller tournament called the Churchill Cup, although they will not play in the 2010 edition.

Irish provinces compete in the Celtic League, now sponsored by Magners, against Welsh regions and Scotland super-districts. Currently, Leinster, Munster and Ulster also compete in the Heineken Cup, and Connacht compete in the European Challenge Cup.

Competitions have taken place since the late 1800s with the modern day Inter Provincial Championship between Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht first contested in 1920, with the oldest interprovincial match held between Leinster and Ulster.

Another focus for the domestic game in Ireland is the All Ireland League. This was started in 1990 and has now expanded to three divisions.

Irish provincial "A" teams from Leinster, Munster and Ulster take part in the British and Irish Cup competition which started in 2009-10, which also includes three Scottish developmental sides, six clubs from the Welsh Premier Division, and all 12 clubs from England's RFU Championship.


Rugby union is common throughout Ireland, but is especially popular in Limerick as well as Belfast, Cork and Dublin.


According to the IRB Ireland has 201 rugby union clubs; 614 referees; 25,000 pre-teen male players; 35,000 teen male players; 14,500 senior male players (total male players 74,500) as well as 10,000 pre-teen female players; 800 teen female players; 1,200 senior female players (total female players 12,000).

The IRFU Annual Report for season 2006-2007 reported playing figures within Ireland as follows:

  • Adult Male Players: 21740
  • Women Players: 1756
  • Number of Secondary Schools Players: 23586
  • Number of Youth Players: 12472
  • Number of Mini Rugby Players: 10967
  • Primary School: 32209
  • TOTAL PLAYERS: 100974


In Northern Ireland rugby union has traditionally been seen as a unionist sport with nationalists preferring to play Gaelic Athletic Association sports although with the changing political climate many nationalists are now playing the sport[citation needed].

In many ways secondary schools are the heart of rugby union in Ireland. Notable rugby union schools include Crescent College, Christian Brothers College, Cork, Presentation Brothers College, Cork, St. Conleth's College, Rockwell College, St. Munchin's College Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College, Blackrock College, Mount Temple, St. Michael's College, St Mary's College Rathmines, Terenure College, The High School Castleknock College also Garbally College, Colaiste Iognaid Galway, Marist College, Athlone and Sligo Grammar School from Connacht, and in Ulster the Belfast giants Campbell College, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, Ballymena Academy, The Royal School, Armagh and Methodist College Belfast, with RBAI and MCB being the dominant schools in the Ulster Schools Cup History.

Current trends

The professional era and the advent of the Magners League and Heineken Cup have seen rugby union become a major spectator sport in Ireland. European Cup games are generally well supported in all the provinces, with sellouts the norm and massive crowds in Dublin's Lansdowne Road for quarterfinal and semifinal matches. Ulster, Munster and Leinster have all won the Heineken Cup. Ulster have led the Magners League attendances for 3 years in the row and Connacht, Munster and Leinster's crowds have grown year on year.

Munster extensively renovated and expanded their traditional home of Thomond Park in a project that was completed in 2008. Royal Dublin Society expanded their RDS Arena in the same time period, which prompted Leinster to make it their primary home whilst they were planning to expand their own traditional ground at Donnybrook. After the Donnybrook plans fell through, Leinster chose to remain at the RDS. Connacht and Ulster are planning similar ground upgrades to increase capacity and comfort, as well as Munster at their secondary home of Musgrave Park.

Ireland international games sell out against all but the weakest opposition, and with the team playing at Croke Park during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road, attendances have topped 80,000.

The national team

The Ireland national team are considered by the IRB to be in the first tier.

Ireland contest the Millennium Trophy with England as part of the Six Nations Championship.

Every four years the British and Irish Lions go on tour with players from Ireland as well as England, Scotland and Wales.

As with all top-tier rugby nations, and many lower-tier countries, Ireland also field an "A" national side, a second-level national selection primarily intended to develop younger talent for possible future duty on the senior national team. Since February 2010, the IRFU have rebranded the A side as Ireland Wolfhounds. The Wolfhounds generally play "A" teams of the other major European powers and senior sides of lower-tier nations.

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b "Gaelic football" in The Encyclopedia of Ireland (ISBN 0717130002), p421
  2. ^ "Michael Cusack, Maurice Davin and the Gaelic Athletic Association". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  3. ^ "2009 official guide part1". Retrieved 2010-01-07. 
  4. ^ "Ireland must wait to enjoy Croke craic".,18259,3551_1902765,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-11. 
  5. ^ "Ireland 17-20 France". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  6. ^ "'Foreign' rugby invading Ireland's hallowed ground". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  7. ^ "'God Save the Queen' at Jones's Road a remarkable moment'". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  8. ^ "Ireland 43 England 13: Ireland have the last laugh as Ashton rues 'massive blip'". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  9. ^ "Image showing man wearing Celtic tracksuit and holding sign". Retrieved 2010-02-05. 
  10. ^ "Republicans protest against "God Save The Queen" at Croker". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  11. ^ "Statsguru / Team analysis / Ireland / Test matches (filters: Matches won, from 23 June 2004 to 23 June 2009)".;result=1;spanmax1=23+Jun+2009;spanmin1=23+Jun+2004;spanval1=span;template=results;type=team;view=results. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  12. ^ "Leinster 25-6 Munster". Retrieved 2010-01-07. 


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