Rugby union in Ireland
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|Rugby union in Ireland|
|Munster fans watching the 2005-06 Heineken Cup final on the streets of Limerick.|
|Governing body||Irish Rugby Football Union|
|First played||1869, Dublin|
|- 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|
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 Ireland-qualified players living in England, Scotland and Wales.
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 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
- 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 also compete in a smaller tournament called the Churchill Cup.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The national team
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Rugby union in Ireland|
- Richards, Huw A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 2007, ISBN 9781845962555)
- Rugby Union, Irish Nationalism and National Identity in Northern Ireland
- IRB statistics for Ireland
- ^ "Statsguru / Team analysis / Ireland / Test matches (filters: Matches won, from 23 June 2004 to 23 June 2009)". Scrum.com. http://www.scrum.com/statsguru/rugby/team/3.html?class=1;result=1;spanmax1=23+Jun+2009;spanmin1=23+Jun+2004;spanval1=span;template=results;type=team;view=results. Retrieved 2009-06-23.