Monday, June 15, 2020

The Evolution of Rugby Union in Ireland

Source: Pexels

One point in time that we can claim as the 'beginning' of Rugby Union in Ireland is 1874, when Dublin University Football Club formed the IFU, which later became the IRFU. However, it was in 1875, that Ireland's national team played their first international match. Although the match wasn't successful, with a 0-7 loss to England, it began a rich history of the game in Ireland, as the team went on to play in the Six Nations (formerly known as the Home Nations) tournament in 1883.


In 1905, Ireland welcomed the famed All Blacks rugby team to its capital, a game that was so highly anticipated, it was made the first ticket-only international rugby match in history. The New Zealand team took home the victory, but nevertheless, the match gave Irish rugby attention from fans all over the world. After a mixed group of results, Ireland came close to a Grand Slam in the 1926 Five Nations championship, but unfortunately lost to Wales in their final match, having previously been unbeaten throughout the tournament. 


As the third-oldest rugby nation, it is unsurprising that the sport is so popular in Ireland, and that its history is linked with the social history of the country. Rugby union was associated with the more anglophilic cultures of Ireland, as the game was originally played in England, and there were protests against the game 'encroaching' on Irish sport during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1884, the Gaelic Athletic Association was created to promote indigenous Gaelic games such as camogie, hurling, and rounders. 


This tension was reignited in the 1970s, during which, the '72 Five Nations championship was not able to be completed due to Scotland and Wales refusing to play Ireland due to threatening letters allegedly sent from the IRA. This was also the time when a national coach was appointed to the team for the first time. The responsibility went to Ronnie Dawson in 1969, who eventually coached them to their first Five Nations win since 1951, pushing Scotland, Wales, and France into the second position in 1974.



But what about now? Well, the game is now a huge part of All-Irish culture, with over 21700 male players and 1756 female players across various teams, as well as a large number of youth players. Rugby has always been a social sport and we can see that translating into the modern world, with important elements such as rugby union betting moving online to make it more accessible to those who can't perhaps attend matches or land-based bookmakers physically, and to increase the ease with which fans can get involved in the game. The IRFU now also has an online Supporter's Club, that allows fans to get exclusive information, competitions, and discounts for a yearly fee, as well as a Junior package for younger fans.


Rugby Union will continue to be a part of Irish culture, with the iconic green and white Shamrock logo representing the faith and hope that sport brings to fans across the country, as well as a bit of luck to bring success to the team!


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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019