Rugby union in Ireland


Rugby union in Ireland

Sport overview
country = Ireland
sport = rugby union
union = Irish Rugby Football Union
nickname =
first = 1869, Dublin
registered = 100,974
national1 = Rugby World Cup
national2 = Six Nations
national3 = Rugby World Cup Sevens
national4 = IRB Sevens World Series
club1 = Magners League
club2 = Heineken Cup
club3 = AIB League
country

countryflagvar = rugby

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.

History

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. 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.

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.

Nowadays rugby union is played by both Nationalists and Unionists. Historically it tends 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 Munster & Connacht, it has a reputation of being more of a Working class game, in Dublin a Middle Class game, whilst in Northern Ireland it is traditionally played in the mainly Protestant grammar schools. The changing climate in Northern Ireland politics has rather ironically altered this percieved tradition with the introduction of Rugby Union into an increasing number of Roman Catholic grammar schools and Secondary schools in Northern Ireland which were exclusively associated with Gaelic games previously. 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 and have attended fee paying schools.

The conversion of rugby from amateurism to professionalism led to the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) using the provincial structure to create 4 professional teams, with the Irish players on these teams on central contracts to the IRFU, meaning they, 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. The national team has won several triple crowns and is able to play at a competitive level with all the world's rugby giants, having beaten all but New Zealand in the last 5 years.

Ireland's provinces have also been successful in the professional era. Ulster won the European Cup in 1999 and for the last 5 years Munster and Leinster have regularly featured in the latter stages of the competition, culminating in Munster's wins in 2006 and 2008. In the Celtic League the provinces are regular winners or near the top of the 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.

The level below the provinces, the clubs, have 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 returing from injury or loss of form. Changes are underway in the club structure to try and make it more attractive, whilst maintaining club ethos.

Governing body

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) are the governing body for rugby union in Ireland. The IRFU is divided into four branches which represent the four provinces of Ireland: Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht.

Competitions

:"See also" Irish rugby union system

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.

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.

Popularity

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

Statistics

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 [http://www.irishrugby.ie/images/content/theirfu/5549_-_IRFU_Annual_RepWEB.pdf 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

Demographics

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 sportFact|date=August 2008.

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, Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College, Blackrock College, Mount Temple, St. Michael's College, 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 Celtic 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 and Munster have both won the Heineken Cup, while Leinster's best finishes in that tournament have been semifinal appearances. Ulster have led the Celtic League attendances for 3 years in the row and Connacht, Munster and Leinster's crowds have grown year on year. All the provinces are planning major ground upgrades to increase capacity and comfort.

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.

See also

*Sport in Ireland
*Sport in the United Kingdom

External links

* [http://www.irishrugby.ie/ Irish Rugby Football Union]
* [http://www.planet-rugby.com/Teams/Ireland/index.shtml Irish rugby union news from Planet Rugby]

References

* [http://www.aafla.org/SportsLibrary/FootballStudies/2003/FS0601d.pdf Rugby Union, Irish Nationalism and National Identity in Northern Ireland]
* [http://www.irb.com/InTouch/Regions/UnionInfo.htm?Country=IRELAND IRB statistics for Ireland]


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