The Irish Rugby Team
Ireland has one of the longest histories of rugby tradition in the world. Dublin University was the first club to set things going in 1854. Students that traveled to England for scholarly purposes brought the game back to their home nation of Ireland and formed clubs and rules.
The spread of the game was so great and popular that by 1875 eight major clubs had been formed with some of them still in existence today. The first Irish representative side, which included Northern Ireland, formed in 1874 and played their first game against England in 1875. This was a time when rugby teams still had 20 players on the field during play. Ireland lost the game 7-0.
Ireland were not very successful in their infancy but gained their first win over Scotland in 1881 and by 1888 they had beaten England and Wales. Ireland won the Triple Crown, an early form of the Six Nations, in 1894 and were gaining in strength and popularity with players and spectators. Rugby had taken hold of the nation and the growth of the sport was gaining momentum.
Early in the 1900s Ireland hosted New Zealand and South Africa on tour but lost to these two teams. Even though they lost by record defeats to the touring Southern nations, they performed well against the home nations and France to come close to grand slam success in the now Five Nations tournament. In 1949, Ireland claimed their first grand slam tournament by beating all the other competing nations in the Five Nations tournament. They had become a powerhouse of rugby which is the foundation for the team that they are today.
Even though Ireland had a terrible record in the 60s and 70s, they still were a threat to competing teams and with coaches like Roly Meates, Noel Murphy and Willie John McBride, they become a stronger unit into the 80s.
Ireland’s spiritual rugby home is Landsdowne Road, a ground that the first representative team played on and was the site for many sporting events. The rugby stadium was demolished in 2007 to make way for the modern Aviva Stadium, the new home for Ireland rugby. This stadium seats 50,000 as opposed to the old Landsdowne Road stadium which seated 23,000. The grounds are still the same, but the modern facility has its own character and aura about it now. One thing that is noticeable is that when a kicker lines up a place kick, the whole stadium hushes to the point of hearing a pin drop.
Ireland have played in a green jersey since its conception and have had a shamrock on the jersey since 1874. Even though there have been some modifications to the emblem, the shamrock has always been part of Irish Rugby tradition. Currently Ireland play in their green jersey with white shorts and green socks with the alternate strip being a white jersey with green lining details and green shorts.
Some of the men that have worn the jersey include legends like Willie John McBride, Jack Kyle, Tony O’Reilly, Keith Wood, Mike Gibson, Tom Keirnan and Syd Millar. All of whom at inductees in rugby Hall of Fame. The legend of the green jersey though, would be a recent player who retired at the end of last year. After 133 caps for Ireland staring in 1999, this man is regarded by many as the best in the world. Brian O’Driscoll was a massive presence in the Irish team as well as in rugby. He may be a recent legend, but he became a legend while still playing. His style of rugby was straight forward and strong as he played in the centres, mostly at 13. He was captain of Ireland for 83 of his tests, which brings him into the realm of Richie McCaw. In addition to his Irish caps, he earned 8 caps for the British and Irish Lions and was the captain in 2005 when touring New Zealand. This man holds a number of records and has gained the ultimate respect from opposition and supporters alike. There has been no other player like him and it’ll take a lot to find another regarded as highly as this man. He had a lot to live up to with close family members representing Ireland in the past, so the genes and family brand were there from the start.
Currently O’Driscoll has taken up commentating duties with the BT Sport and other sporting media. He adds his wealth of knowledge and experience to the team and it is very interesting to listen to him.
Ireland’s brand of rugby has been going through some evolution of late with their coach, John Schmidt instilling some exciting play based off solid set pieces. Ireland play a similar game to South Africa as they use the big units upfront to release the back line. They usually recycled the ball slowly from the rucks, but these days, they get the ball quickly into the line and use speed and tactical kicking to get over the defensive lines.
Ireland partake in the Six Nations annually, playing against old rivals England, Scotland and Wales as well as France and Italy. They are current champions and successfully defended the cup to make it two in a row. They are considered real contenders for the Webb Ellis cup and they are prepared to play and beat anyone in their path. I would bet that they will be the most successful Northern team this year as they currently sit 3rd in the world rankings and have recently taken some big scalps. Watch for them as they might put on a big show to win the coveted cup.