Ireland national rugby union team
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|Union||Irish Rugby Football Union|
|Ground(s)||Croke Park (temporarily)|
|Most caps||Malcolm O'Kelly (92)|
|Top scorer||Ronan O'Gara (790)|
|Most tries||Brian O'Driscoll (31)|
| England 7 - 0 Ireland
( 15 February, 1875)
| United States 3 - 83 Ireland
( 10 June, 2000)
| New Zealand 59 - 6 Ireland
( 6 June, 1992)
|Appearances||6 (First in 1987)|
|Best result||Quarter Finals, 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003,|
The Ireland rugby union team represents both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in rugby union, a popular sport throughout Ireland although the dominant one only in limited geographical areas. Ireland compete annually in the Six Nations Championship (which they have won ten times outright and of which they have shared the championship eight times) and in the Rugby World Cup every four years where they have been eliminated at the quarter-final stage in all but one competition. They also form a quarter of the British and Irish Lions. Eight former Ireland players have earned induction into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
Historically, Ireland have been the least successful of the rugby union home nations, with the fewest number of Six Nations Championships (10) and Grand Slams (one). Ireland have also been regular winners of the wooden spoon in the Six Nations Championship and its predecessor tournaments. However, Irish rugby union is widely acknowledged to have made the transition to professionalism more successfully than other middle-ranking rugby powers (such as Wales and Scotland) and Ireland have churned out good results, especially for a nation with a population of only six million (when combining the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland) with strong competition for players with Gaelic games and soccer. They have won three Triple Crowns in the last four years. Outside centre Brian O'Driscoll, the current captain and Ireland's current 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 Denis Hickie, currently second to O'Driscoll on the Ireland try scoring list; 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.
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 championship on points difference. Ireland performed well below par in the 2007 World Cup. They were knocked out in the pool stages after losing to Argentina.
Caid is an ancient sport played in Ireland with strong similarities to rugby, it was played within a defined space and between a predetermined number of players. The Cork born Peter Shorten founded a club at Joe's chipper in 1854, in Cork. By 1867, Trinity second XV were playing matches against St. Columba’s College and Hume High Street, two Leinster schools and, importantly for the game in the north of the country, Royal School, Dungannon. Following the adoption of a set of official rules in 1868, rugby football began to spread quickly throughout Ireland.
In 1874, the Irish Football Union (reconstituted as the Irish Rugby Football Union after unification with the North of Ireland Union) was formed. Ireland lost their first test match against England 7-0 at the Oval on the 15 February 1875. Interestingly, both teams fielded 20 players in this match. Ireland's first home game was also against England in the same year held at the Leinster Cricket Club in Rathmines as Lansdowne Road was deemed unsuitable. The first match at Lansdowne Road was held on March 11, 1878 with England beating Ireland by 2 goals and 1 try to nil.
It was not until 1881 that they first won a test, against Scotland at Ormeau in Belfast. Ireland turned up two men short for their game in Cardiff in 1884 and had to borrow two Welsh players. The first victory Ireland had at Lansdowne Road took place on February 5, 1887. It was also their first win over England, by two goals to nil. On the third of March 1888, Ireland recorded their first win over Wales with a goal, a try and a drop goal to nil.
In 1894 for the first time, Ireland followed the Welsh model of using seven backs instead of six. After victory over England at Blackheath, Ireland won back-to-back matches for the first time when recording their first win over Scotland on 24 February 1894. Ireland went on to beat Wales in Belfast and win the Triple Crown for the first time.
In the 1890s Rugby was primarily a game for the Protestant middle class, the only Catholic in Edmund Forrest’s 1894 team was Tom Crean. Of the eighteen players used in the three games, thirteen were from three Dublin clubs –Wanderers, Dublin University and Bective Rangers – and the remaining five were from Ulster. They went on to win the Home international championship twice more before the old century was out (1896 and 1899), so that by 1900 all four of the Home Unions had tasted success at a game that was growing in popularity with players and spectators.
Such was the level of interest in the visit of the first All Blacks team to Dublin in November 1905 that the IRFU made the match the first all-ticket rugby international in history. Ireland played only seven forwards, copying the then New Zealand method of playing a "rover". The game ended New Zealand 15 Ireland 0.
On March 20, 1909, Ireland played France for the first time, beating them 19-8. This was Ireland's biggest victory in international rugby at that time, their highest points tally and a record five tries. November 30, 1912 was the first time the Springboks met Ireland at Lansdowne Road, the 1906 tour game having been played at Ravenhill. Ireland with seven new caps were overwhelmed by a record margin of 38-0, still a record loss to South Africa who scored 10 tries. In 1926, Ireland went into their final Five Nations match unbeaten and with the Grand Slam at stake lost to Wales in Swansea. Ireland again came close to a grand slam in 1927 when their sole loss was an 8-6 defeat by England.
Ireland's finest hour arguably came in 1948 when, inspired by tactician and fly-half Jack Kyle, they beat France in Paris, England at Twickenham and a 6-0 win over Scotland at Lansdowne Road. They clinched their only Grand Slam in the Five Nations with a win against Wales at Ravenhill, Belfast. Ireland were champions and Triple Crown winners again in 1949.
The Irish used only 19 players in clinching the 1949 Championship and Triple Crown, only the fourth time that the Triple Crown had been retained by a home nation.
In 1951, Ireland were once more crowned outright Five Nations champions and were unbeaten going into their final game. They failed to win the Grand Slam or Triple Crown following a 3-3 draw with Wales in Cardiff.
The year of 1952 saw only Ireland's second overseas tour, the first for over half a century - as they headed to Argentina for a nine-match trip which included two Test matches. Ireland won six, drew two and lost one of the matches, their Test record being won one, drawn one.
On February 27, 1954, Ireland were due to play Scotland at Ravenhill in Belfast. The new Irish captain, Jim McCarthy, told IRFU president Sarsfield Hogan that the eleven Republic-based players would not stand for "God save the Queen" alongside the Scottish team. It was agreed that an abbreviated anthem, known in Ulster as "the Salute", would be played that afternoon and that the Irish team would never play again at Ravenhill. Ireland went on to beat Scotland 6-0 but would not play in Northern Ireland again until 2007.
On January 18, 1958 Ireland beat Australia 9-6 in Dublin, this was the first time a major touring team had been defeated.
Sixties and seventies
Ireland managed just three victories in the Five Nations Championship; against England in 1961, Wales in 1963 and England again in 1964. There were also draws against England and Wales at Lansdowne Road to the end of 1964.
1965 saw an improvement as Ireland drew with France before beating England and Scotland, only for their Triple Crown hopes disappear against Wales in Cardiff. On April 10, 1965 Ireland recorded their first ever win over South Africa. The match, held at Lansdowne Road, was heading for a draw with the score at six points each, when Tom Kiernan won the match for Ireland with a late penalty. Ireland beat Australia again in Dublin in 1967 and became the first of the home nations to win in the Southern Hemisphere when they beat Australia in Sydney in May 1967.
On 26 October 1968, Ireland made it four successive wins over the Wallabies with a 16-3 win at Lansdowne Road.
In 1969, Ireland claimed a 17-9 victory over France at Lansdowne Road in the Five Nations, a first victory over Les Bleus in 11 years. They were again unbeaten going into their final game in Cardiff but Wales denied them a Grand Slam for the third time. In the autumn of 1969, the Irish Rugby Football Union decided to appoint a coach for the national team for the first time, the role went to Ronnie Dawson.
The 1972 Five Nations Championship was not completed when Scotland and then Wales refused to play in Ireland following threatening letters to players, purportedly from the IRA. The championship remained unresolved with Wales and Ireland unbeaten. In 1973, despite similar threats, England fulfilled their fixture and were given a standing ovation that lasted for five minutes. Ireland won 18-9 and at the after-match dinner the England captain, John Pullin famously remarked "We might not be very good but at least we turn up". Ireland came close to a first win over the All Blacks on January 20, 1973 but with the score at 10-10 an Irish conversion attempt was pushed wide by a gust of wind. In the final match of the 1974 season, Ireland won their first six nations championship since 1951.
Roly Meates was national coach from 1975 to 1977 and Noel Murphy from 1977 to 1980. Willie John McBride was coach until 1984.
Eighties and nineties
In 1982 Ireland came close to winning a Grand Slam but were beaten by France in Paris. They beat Scotland, Wales and England to win the championship and their first Triple Crown in 33 years.
Three years after their last Triple Crown win, Ireland, coached by Mick Doyle, came out in 1985 and won the Championship and the Triple Crown again. They beat Scotland and Wales. The French again prevented Ireland from claiming a Grand Slam after a 15-15 draw in Dublin. Ireland played England at Lansdowne Road and won the championship with a last minute drop goal from Michael Kiernan. The match ended 13-10 to Ireland. It would be Ireland's last silverware until 2004.
Ireland were whitewashed in the 1986 Five Nations Championship but on November 1, 1986, Ireland made history when they scored 10 tries against Romania in a 60-0 win. It was the biggest win in international rugby at the time, equaling the French record set in 1967.
At the inaugural World Cup in 1987, two straightforward victories over Tonga and Canada were enough to see Ireland through to the quarter-finals, when they travelled to Sydney to face the joint hosts Australia, only to be beaten 35-15.
In the Five Nations, England and France were dominant throughout the decade, resulting in the others scrapping around for the odd Championship title. Ireland didn't manage to win the trophy once in the whole decade and worse never finished outside the bottom two.
The second Rugby World Cup took place in Britain, Ireland and France in 1991. Ireland found themselves in the same pool as Scotland. After two easy wins over Japan and Zimbabwe, Scotland sneaked a 28-25 win at Murrayfield. Ireland would play the Wallabies at Lansdowne Road in the quarter final. Ireland appeared to be on the verge of a shock victory over Australia, when Michael Lynagh scored the winning try to clinch a 19-18 win for Australia.
At the 1994 Five Nations Championship, Ireland beat Will Carling's all-conquering England at Twickenham.
At the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, Ireland were in a group containing the All Blacks and Wales. In a close game in Johannesburg, Ireland sneaked through 24-23 against Wales to make their third consecutive quarter-final appearance. Unfortunately France proved too strong, with Ireland going down 36-12.
Three years running Ireland finished bottom in the Five Nations Championship (1996, 1997 and 1998). Englishman Brian Ashton was head coach between 1997 and 1998. Ashton had been awarded a six year contract by the IRFU but resigned barely 12 months later after a series of disappointing results. Warren Gatland took over as coach in 1998. 1999 was the first time Ireland had failed to reach the last eight at a Rugby World Cup. From this nadir, however, Irish rugby improved rapidly. With the advent of professionalism, the Irish Rugby Football Union decided to convert the four representative provincial sides into de facto club sides, with the financial capacity to retain top talent in Ireland, yet retaining strong links with amateur clubs and schools to enable young talent to be brought up through the ranks. The close geographical proximity of most of the Irish international squad helped cement relationships between the players in a way that would not have been possible had they left for English, French and Southern Hemisphere clubs. The later formation of the Celtic League (Now Magners League) cemented this strategy by ensuring that provincial sides had a regular diet of competitive rugby.
The 1999 World Cup was staged in Wales though Ireland played all their pool games in Dublin. A defeat to the Wallabies meant Ireland having to go down the play-off route. Playing away from Lansdowne Road for the first time in the competition, Ireland were beaten 28-24 by Argentina in Lens.
The advent of the new Six Nations format coincided with this Irish resurgence, and they became the strongest of the Celtic nations. In 2001 the rugby union season was disrupted due to the foot and mouth crisis in Britain. Ireland were good enough to beat France but were unable to play Scotland until the Autumn and were caught cold losing 32-10. They were still good enough to beat England, spoiling their hopes of a Grand Slam, and finishing second on points difference. Eddie O'Sullivan took over as coach from Warren Gatland in November 2001 following the New Zealander's sacking.
The 2003 Six Nations came down to the wire with Ireland and England playing a Grand Slam decider at Lansdowne Rd. England, however, won 42-6. That defeat ended an unbeaten run that stretched back 10 Tests to their Rugby World Cup qualifiers warm up against Romania in September 2002 and included defeats of Pool A rivals Australia and Argentina at Lansdowne Road. In 2004 they lost their opening game against France but became the first team to beat England following their World Cup win. They finished second in the table behind France and won the Triple Crown.
In 2005 Ireland were considered slight favourites entering the competition, and won their first three matches, including a 19-13 defeat of England in Dublin. However, Ireland's dreams of their first Grand Slam since 1948 were ended with a 26-19 home loss to France. In the final round, Wales defeated Ireland 32-20 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to win the Grand Slam. Ireland finished in 3rd place. In 2006, Ireland showed the capacity to play top class rugby, but only inconsistently - a rout of Wales was balanced by uncertain victories against England, Scotland and Italy and a comprehensive defeat by winners France. Ireland finished second and won the Triple Crown for the second time in three years, incidentally the first ever time a trophy had been awarded for the feat.
They then embarked on their annual tour to the southern hemisphere. There they ran New Zealand close twice before a tired Ireland were thumped by the Wallabies in Perth. They returned to their clubs before they gathered once more for the last Autumn Internationals at Lansdowne Road. The South Africans came with an experimental side with an eye on the Rugby World Cup 2007, which was soundly beaten by the Irish 32-15. Next to Lansdowne were Australia also experimenting, the weather ruined what many had tipped to be the battle of the backlines, although Geordan Murphy finished off a world class move in their 21-6 victory. That win propelled Ireland to a best ever height of 3rd in the IRB World Rankings. In the final international match at Lansdowne, Ireland thumped the Pacific Islanders 61-17,with Paddy Wallace putting in a man of the match performance with 26 points. The win completed a hat-trick of victories.
In March 2007 the IRFU created the "High Performance Select Group" of up and coming Irish players who have been earmarked for future Irish teams. This group includes Luke Fitzgerald, Barry Murphy, Tommy Bowe, Kieran Lewis, Ronnie McCormack, Trevor Hogan, Robert Kearney, Daniel Riordan, Stephen Ferris, Roger Wilson, Bryan Young and Jamie Heaslip some of whom have already been capped. The aim of the group is to provide these young players with the support and infrastructure available to the senior squad and to ease their future transition into the Irish team.
With the announcement of the rebuilding of Lansdowne Road, a new venue was required to stage Ireland's home internationals. While Ireland are planning to play one of their warm up matches for the 2007 World Cup at Ravenhill, the only stadium in Ireland capable of holding major rugby internationals was Croke Park, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association. To accommodate this, the GAA temporarily relaxed its rule governing the playing of so-called "foreign games" on its property. Initially, two Six Nations games were played at Croke Park during 2007; the first was a 17-20 loss to France, and the second a 43 to 13 win over England.
Flags and anthems
The Irish rugby union team is one of a few national sporting teams on the island that draws widespread support in both "Irelands" from both nationalist and unionist communities. As Ireland represents players from different sovereign territories, there has been controversy over the flags and anthems. When Irish internationals were played alternately in Belfast and Dublin, the British national anthem " God Save the Queen" was played for matches in Belfast and the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland " Amhrán na bhFiann" was played for matches in Dublin. No anthem was played at away games.
Since April 1995, a specially composed anthem, " Ireland's Call" has been used by the Irish team in away games. This has prompted some players and supporters from the Republic to complain that "Amhrán na bhFiann" should be played. At games played in Dublin "Ireland's Call" is always used alongside "Amhrán na bhFiann". This use of "Amhrán na bhFiann" has caused similar complaints from players and supporters from Northern Ireland. With Ireland's friendly game against Italy in the run up to the Rugby World Cup scheduled to be held in Belfast, there were calls for "God Save the Queen" to be used alongside Ireland's Call but this was turned down by the IRFU with the explanation given that it was not a 'home' match because the team would be playing "outside Ireland".
Similarly, the Irish tricolour, the official flag of the Republic of Ireland is flown only when playing in the Republic and even then not as being representative of the team. A flag with symbols representing the four provinces of Ireland, is flown alongside the Irish tricolour in Dublin, and is used exclusively when playing elsewhere. At some matches, the standard of the island's rugby union governing body, the Irish Rugby Football Union, is displayed on the field during pre-match ceremonies. Many supporters in the crowd at Ireland matches wave the tricolour of the Republic of Ireland, though part of Ireland is not in the Republic of Ireland. Many supporters in the crowd at Ulster games (one of the four professional Irish teams) wave Northern Ireland flags though part of Ulster is in the Republic of Ireland.
The traditional home of Irish rugby is the Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin, where most of Ireland's home matches are held. The stadium, owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union, was built in 1872 and is the oldest international rugby venue that is still used for the sport. In 1878 the ground hosted its first rugby Test, with Ireland playing host to the English (the first representative rugby match had taken place prior to the Test, a game between Ulster and Leinster). Lansdowne Road had a capacity of just over 49,000 before it was demolished in Summer 2007. The ground will be renovated up to a 50,000 all-seater by around 2009. The final Irish Test prior to work commencing on the stadium was against the Pacific Islanders in late 2006. With Lansdowne Road unavailable for use, Ireland was without a suitbale home ground for the subsequent Six Nations. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) owned Croke Park (an 82,500 capacity stadium) was made available for Ireland's two home games against France and England in 2007. It was the first time ever that rugby was played at the venue.
Although Ireland has never totally hosted the Rugby World Cup, select games from both the 1991 and 1999 World Cups were played throughout venues in Ireland. Pool B in 1991 was mainly played in Ireland and Scotland, with two games at Lansdowne Road (involving Ireland) and one (Zimbabwe v Japan) played at Ravenhill, Belfast. A quarter-final and a semi-final were also hosted by Dublin. A similar system was used in 1999, though in addition to Lansdowne and Ravenhill, Thomond Park was also a venue. Lansdowne Road was also the host of a quarter-final in 1999. Ireland were set to host matches at Lansdowne Road for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, but due to scheduling conflicts with the reconstruction of the stadium, they decided not to host any.
The Six Nations Championship, held every year in February and March is Ireland's only annual tournament. It is contested against England, France, Italy, Scotland and Wales. Ireland was a member of the inaugural Home Nations in 1883 - with France and Italy joining later to form the Five and Six Nations respectively. Ireland won their first championship in 1894, winning the Triple Crown also. Ireland's first (and to date - only) Grand Slam occurred in the 1948 season. In total Ireland have been champions on 10 occasions.
|Outright Wins (Shared Wins)|
|Home Nations||5 (4)||-||4 (3)||-||9 (2)||7 (3)|
|Five Nations||17 (6)||12 (8)||6 (5)||-||5 (6)||15 (8)|
|Overall||26 (10)||17 (8)||11 (8)||0 (0)||14 (8)||25 (11)|
Ireland have competed at every Rugby World Cup since the tournament was first held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987. The furthest Ireland have progressed at any World Cup has been to the quarter-finals, which they have made four times. After a loss to Wales, Ireland finished second in their pool in 1987 but were then knocked out by Australia in their quarter final in Sydney. In 1991 Ireland again lost only the one match in pool play (to Scotland). They again met the Australians in the quarter-finals, who defeated them by one point. Runner-up in their pool in 1995 to the All Blacks, Ireland were defeated by France in their quarter-final in Durban.
Ireland finished second in their pool in 1999, behind Australia and went into the quarter-final play-offs (a system exclusive to the 1999 tournament). There they lost to Argentina, and thus, not being a quarter-finalists, they were not given automatic entry into 2003. They defeated Russia and Georgia to go through as Europe 1. They finished second to Australia in their pool, and were knocked out by France in the quarter finals.
They started in the so-called " Group of death" with hosts France, Argentina, Namibia and Georgia for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Their abysmal performance against Namibia (the lowest ranked team in the World cup) in their opening game on September 9 resulted in a laboured 32-17 win. On the back of 3 poor performances in the World cup warm-ups, O'Sullivan played a virtually full strength team against the minnows of the tournament but they failed to take control of the match, allowing Namibia to score two second-half tries and only secured victory by a penalty try and a dubious refereeing decision, allowing Flannery's knocked on ball to stand as a try. Their progress was then put further into doubt when they only managed to beat Georgia 14-10, not obtaining a bonus point. France's victory over Namibia 87-10 put Ireland's progression from the group in doubt, and this was compounded when the French defeated Ireland 25-3. Entering their last group match against Argentina, needing four tries to secure a bonus point without allowing Argentina anything, Ireland were defeated clinically by 30 points to 15. This brought their disappointing 2007 World Cup to an end.
List of all players to ever play for Ireland
Squad of 30 for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Note: Flags indicate national union for the club/province as defined by the International Rugby Board.
IR (Injury Replacement)
Notable Former Players
Eight former Irish players have been inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame
- Mike Gibson
- Willie John McBride
- Tony O'Reilly
- Jack Kyle
- Syd Millar
- Keith Wood
- Tom Kiernan
- Fergus Slattery
Other Notable players
- Willie Anderson
- Ollie Campbell
- Victor Costello
- Peter Clohessy
- Ronnie Dawson
- Mick Doyle
- Mick Galwey
- Simon Geoghegan
- David Humphreys
- Robert Blair 'Paddy' Mayne
- Donal Lenihan
- Andy Mulligan
- Phillip Orr
- Nick Popplewell
- Trevor Ringland
- Mark Sugden
- Tony Ward