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The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) ( ) is the body managing rugby union in Irelandmarker. The IRFU has its head office and grounds at Lansdowne Roadmarker, where Irish rugby union international matches are played. In addition, the Union also owns Ravenhillmarker in Belfastmarker, Thomond Parkmarker in Limerickmarker and a number of grounds in provincial areas that have been rented to clubs.

History

Initially there were two unions both founded in 1874. The Irish Football Union had jurisdiction over clubs in Leinster, Munster and parts of Ulster; the Northern Football Union of Ireland controlled the Belfast area. The IRFU was formed in 1879 as an amalgamation of the two different organisations and branches were formed in Leinster, Munster and Ulster. The Connacht Branch was formed in 1886.

The IRFU was a founding member of the International Rugby Board in 1886 with Scotland and Wales. (England refused to join until 1890).

Following the political partition of Ireland into separate national states the Republic of Irelandmarker (originally the Irish Free State then √Čire) and Northern Irelandmarker (a political division of the United Kingdom), the then Committee of the Irish Rugby Football Union decided that it would continue to administer its affairs on the basis of the full 32 Irish counties and the traditional four provinces of Ireland: Leinster (12 counties), Ulster (9 counties), Munster (6 counties), and Connacht (5 counties).

This led to the unusual, but not unique,situation among international rugby union teams, where the Irish representative teams are drawn from players from two separate political, national territories: the Republic of Irelandmarker (an independent, sovereign state) and Northern Irelandmarker (a part of the United Kingdommarker). Historically, Rhodesian players were eligible to present South Africa. To maintain the unity of Irish rugby union and the linkages between North and South the IRFU purchased a new ground in 1923 in the Ravenhill district of Belfastmarker at a cost of £2,300. The last full International at Ravenhill involving Ireland for more than a half-century took place in 1953-54 against Scotland who were victorious by 2 tries (6 points) to nil. Australia played Romania in the 1999 World Cup at the ground. The next full International played at Ravenhill was the Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Italy in August 2007 due to the temporary closure of Lansdowne Road for reconstruction.

During the 1880s the four provincial branches of the IRFU first ran cup competitions and although these tournaments still take place every year their significance has been diminished by the advent of an All-Ireland league of 48 Senior Clubs in 1990.

The four provinces have played an Interprovincial Championship since the 1920s and continue to be the focal point for players aspiring to the international level. Munster, Leinster and Ulster continue to be the strongest three with Connacht in the west of the island traditionally the weakest as a result of Connacht receiving only half the amount of money the other three provinces receive from the IRFU. All four provinces play at the senior level as members of the Celtic League.

Affiliation

There are currently approximately 95,000 players in total in Ireland. 56 clubs are affiliated to the Ulster Branch; 71 to the Leinster Branch: 59 to the Munster Branch and 19 to the Connacht Branch. In addition there are 246 Schools playing rugby, Ulster (107), Leinster (75), Munster (41) and Connacht (23).

The IRFU also has an Exiles Branch tasked with developing Ireland-qualified players living in England, Scotland and Wales. Volunteers provide coaching, administration and development under the supervision of a paid development manager.

See also



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