How will Ireland’s Rugby World Cup run affect provincial rugby?

Men in green.

The Rugby World Cup is one of the biggest sporting events in the world that takes place every 4 years. It is a rugby union tournament that is contested between the top 20 international teams worldwide and the most recent event was played in September 2023 in France. South Africa won the tournament beating New Zealand in a tight final that finished 12-11.

Ireland’s rugby team was first established in 1875 and today they have become one of the strongest teams in the sport. They first reached number 1 in the rugby world rankings in 2019 and are now currently in 2nd place.

The 2023 Rugby World Cup was actually their most successful campaign to date as they scored 19 table points and reached the quarter finals. Despite it being their best campaign yet, they have never gotten past the quarter final stage at the World Cup and had previously been knocked out at this stage 7 times and this year was no different.

Ireland recorded their biggest ever win at a Rugby World Cup when they beat Romania 82-8 in their opening match and even beat the champions South Africa 8-13 in their group match but eventually lost to the other finalists New Zealand 24-28 in the quarter final. Bookmakers like Betfree at the time had Ireland as favourites but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.

Provincial rugby is also hugely important in Ireland and the timing of the Rugby World Cup can have a big impact on the league. Ireland has four provincial unions; Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht which make up the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) and they compete in the United Rugby Championship, the European Rugby Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup.

The Rugby World Cup at the start of the season and so many international players can miss the start of the season due to the scheduling conflicts and can have a big impact on provincial rugby.

These are the main problems as to how Ireland’s Rugby World Cup run can affect provincial rugby matches:

  • Loss of World Cup Players

During the Rugby World Cup, the squads are made up of a maximum of 33 players and for Ireland these players can only be picked from the four provinces teams; Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht. The United Rugby Championship (URC) begins in October and slightly overlaps with the Rugby World Cup which affects their squads as they end up missing their best players for the first few weeks of the league.

The international players will meet up with their Irish teammates a few weeks before the tournament starts to train together and this also disrupts the training at their provincial club. Depending on how far Ireland get in the tournament the players can be away for a long period of time meaning they can’t play some of their league matches.

  • Injuries

Another major problem with having the Rugby World Cup at the same time as provincial matches is the injuries that can happen during the tournament which can then affect the players return to club and disrupt future matches for those players. Depending on how serious the injury is, players can miss just a few matches or the rest of the season.

  • Rest Period

Once the players have returned to their club after their run in the Rugby World Cup is over, the rugby governing bodies have requested that players receive a rest period, providing the players with a deserved rest and time to recover and rehabilitate from the mental and physical strain of the world cup. Most players will have been hugely missed by their club team and depending on how far Ireland got in the tournament, their rest period may be cut short to get back into the action quickly. This can potentially cause injuries or fitness issues that can affect their performance and game time.

  • Schedule

The URC began on the 21st October and the Rugby World Cup was played between September 8th and October 28th. Rugby is a much more physical sport than football for example, and it is unrealistic to have midweek matches and so the scheduling cannot be altered or delayed too much to compensate for the World Cup as it could cut into the next season without a full break. The URC was given a week delay to cater for the potential absence of the international players. Player welfare is a major aspect to consider and the delay helps focus on the health and wellbeing of players that have only just returned from the Rugby World Cup.

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