The Six Nations has concluded with Ireland becoming top dogs of the Northern Hemisphere. Tickets for Ireland’s home matches were as rare as Garth Brooks’ tickets at Croke Park and with the announcement that Ireland shall be bidding for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, rugby has been placed firmly at the front of the country’s mind. But now that the final whistle has been blown at the Stade de France, it is likely that rugby will disappear off the radar for most of the Irish population except for the supporters who religiously follow the four provinces in the Heineken Cup and Pro12. Matt Cassidy questions whether the IRFU are doing enough to promote the game outside rugby strongholds on this island.
The provinces over recent seasons have started to spread the game throughout the country. Ulster has held training sessions in Donegal Town and Derry City and Leinster has pitched up in Dundalk. However, with the exception of Munster who play a game every so often in Musgrave Park, Cork, none of the four provinces have played a home game outside their normal home grounds in Dublin, Belfast, Limerick and Galway in the past few years.
If the provinces rarely leave home comforts, then the Irish rugby team must be house bound as they play outside Ballsbridge as regularly as Ireland achieve Grand Slams. Since the turn of the century Ireland have played only six home games outside of Dublin; four tests and two non-capped internationals. Five games have taken place at Thomond Park and one at Ravenhill in 2007 which was the first Irish international in Belfast for 53 years. If the IRFU refuses to take internationals tests to other rugby strongholds throughout Ireland then there is very little chance of games being scheduled for rugby outposts.
The IRFU may argue that it has invested much money in rebuilding Lansdowne Road and the provinces’ stadia and therefore these facilities must be used as frequently as possible to get full value for money. A fair point; but what a shot in the arm for the oval game if the Irish team played an international in Galway or Mayo or even Clones in Monaghan where there is only one rugby club in the whole county affiliated to the Ulster Branch. However, the likelihood of internationals being played outside of D4 is nil as the IRFU signed a deal with Aviva meaning Ireland’s test matches can only be played at Lansdowne Road for the next 10 years.
There are 205 rugby clubs and counting in the 32 counties. The popularity of the game is at an all-time high on the island with the high win rate of the national team in the Six Nations and Irish provinces conquering Europe time and again. The IRFU and the provinces have played their part in growing the game by sending out coaches to non-rugby schools and having training sessions around the country allowing young people to meet their heroes at their local club. But the staging of games is what really captures the public’s imagination and if the IRFU wins the bid for the 2023 World Cup and wishes its tournament to be a success, then it would do well to abandon its attitude that playing Ireland’s home games outside the capital is beyond the Pale.
Pundit Arena, Matt Cassidy.
By Reggie Suplido from USA (The fabulous Aviva Stadium) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.