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Where do Irish professional rugby players come from?

  • 04-04-2022 3:32pm
    Posts: 0

    Did some analysis of the 227 players currently on the four Irish provincial squads, plus the full academies, looking at where the players were produced.

    The four squads are roughly equal in size, Leinster are the largest at 61, then Munster at 58, Ulster at 56 followed by Connacht at only 52.

    School Location

    101 players total (44%) are produced by schools within the Leinster system, 43 players (19%) within the Munster system, 32 players (14%) in the Ulster system, and just 13 players (6%) from a school in the Connacht system. 38 players (17%) were educated overseas.

    School Classification

    52% of all players (117 players) are produced from a private secondary school in Ireland, 72 (32%) from a public school, and the residual 38 (17%) from a foreign school. I haven't broken down the foreign schools by public v private.

    Largest Producer

    The most telling stat from the analysis is the following: 20% of all Irish players (44 players) come from two schools, Blackrock College & St Michael's College. Blackrock account for 24 players and Michael's 20. Next largest school seems to be Pres in Cork, with 12 players (5%).

    Squad by Squad Analysis

    The Leinster squad has the most indigenously produced players (54 players - 88%), and the highest percentage of privately educated players (44 players - 72%).

    Munster most heavily rely on their own schools (41 players - 71%) and have the second highest percentage of privately educated players (34 players - 59%).

    Ulster produce 54% of their own players (30 players), but the remaining quotient of Ulster players are produced evenly from foreign schools and Leinster schools, both 13 players (23%).

    Connacht have a reliance on the Leinster school system, which accounts for 48% of their squad (25 players), with the next highest percentage coming from abroad (27%),



  • Registered Users Posts: 3,611 ✭✭✭Lost Ormond

    Do you take into account any moves kids made while in school like carbery, Loughman finished school in rock but primarily came thru athy rfc. Many more also like that.

  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    No, I haven't, and I take the point, it's a fair call out. Conor Oliver and possibly the two O'Connor's in Ulster also fall into that bracket.

    I think it's also worth making the point though that while these guys obviously get a lot of their underage development in their home clubs, they may not make it to the top level without the moves into the elite schools.

    Two reasons for that in my view: (i) it's indisputably the case that the level of coaching, conditioning etc in the top schools is probably as good as will be found anywhere in the world for schoolboys rugby, (ii) the opportunities to play in the 'shop window' of schools rugby also gives some of these guys a pathway into the pro game, that mightn't have happened if they'd stayed at their home clubs.

  • Registered Users Posts: 455 ✭✭KieferFan69

    I think instead of wondering where they came from we should ask how they can be improved further through breeding and immigration. You will have greater chance of hulks and freaks and if the people here have relations with foreigners. You can see this tactic is already paying off in France team

  • Registered Users Posts: 694 ✭✭✭Zeugnis

    A Manhattan project for Irish rugby, I like it. Who gets to choose who our stallions players reproduce with? I can see an Endemol pitch...

    Post edited by Zeugnis on

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  • Registered Users Posts: 694 ✭✭✭Zeugnis

    Very interesting and useful, despite the caveats you've acknowledged.

    AFAIK Heffernan also moved to Blackrock from Ballina for Rug by reasons, but not sure if itwas for the Leaving Cert cycle or before that.

    Post edited by Zeugnis on

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,653 ✭✭✭Dubinusa

    Out of curiosity, how many players went from the AIL to the provinces?

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,215 ✭✭✭Paul Smeenus

    Ulster - Shea O'Brien, Bradley Roberts, Matty Rea, Ben Moxham, Andy Warwick.

    Callum Reid joined from his club but was already known from underage Irish Rugby. Same with Eric O'Sullivan. Baloucoune went club - 7s - province. NOt quite sure about Aaron Sexton.

    Can't find details about Academy players.

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,215 ✭✭✭Paul Smeenus

    Jude Postlethwaite was the only Ulster player from the U18s Ireland 7s team (having played for Inst at schools) not to be picked up - went and played from Banbridge, was picked up from there.

  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    It's not a full piece of analysis (that would take too long) but on a headline glance through the squads; it's a relatively small number of players who were actually plucked out of AIL.

    A couple of guys in Connacht spring to mind: Jonny Murphy, Greg McGrath, Matt Healy, Peter Sullivan. There are the guys another poster mentioned in an Ulster context.

    I can't see any players in the Leinster squad who came through that route.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 3,611 ✭✭✭Lost Ormond

    I think they would have made pro if theyd stayed in their club. Might have been slower but if youre playing in a club and then your local school be it through clubs competitions, regional club competitions and the lower level school competitions. if good enough you will be seen and get into regional squads etc. The planned leinster centres of excellence, which will be same as whats already been built in Donnybrook, and in Munster in Musgrave Park, whats planned in Fethard Town Park. etc means moves to rugby schools should decrease which is good for irish rugby overall.

  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    Yeah, I couldn't agree more with the premise that it is the most important thing for Irish rugby to expand the player base.

    There is literally no earthy reason that a young guy who grows up in Sandymount/Ballsbridge/Booterstown/Blackrock should be disproportionately likelier to play pro rugby or be any better at rugby; yet we reap an incredible amount of players from that small catchment area. That was the main point of my initial post.

    Obviously rugby loses a lot of good athletes to other sports at a higher level in other parts of the country, but it is so intriguing to think what would be possible if we had a couple of other rugby nurseries like Blackrock & Michael's scattered across the country; with that level of financial support, coaching, etc.

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,492 ✭✭✭arsebiscuits1

    Heffernan moved to Blackrock in second or third year

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,611 ✭✭✭Lost Ormond

    If we were to create/develop these areas it will only be through clubs combined with schools as it wont happen elsewhere without a serious connection to existing clubs. Hopefully the centres of excellence being built in provinces will help change/broaden make up of provincial squads...

  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    I'd consider that a response that goes out of its way to avoid the point in question.

    Rugby is what is being discussed here as the dominant professional sport in Ireland and unless you went to a private school the odds of making it to the professional ranks are much much lower.

    (I would not count the League of Ireland average salary of €22k to be relevant as fully professional)

    English professional footballers have a 5% rate of private school attendance - that's obviously not an elitist sport in comparison.

  • Subscribers Posts: 40,519 ✭✭✭✭sydthebeat

    But English professional footballers have a 2% rate of private school attendance - that's obviously not an elitist sport in comparison.

    nope, sometimes parents they are quite happy to sell their children into slavery instead

    the game of rugby in ireland is not elitist, as you claim.

    If you make it as a professional in ireland, it very advantageous to come from means in order to have the best coaching and conditioning as you develop. Thats unquestionable currently. But as i said already, that no different to most other sports in ireland where there is a route to professionalism ie tennis, golf etc

    In fact, its no different to most other professional sports all over the world.

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,611 ✭✭✭Lost Ormond

    Its not an elitist sport though if you look at the numbers who are playing the sport overall. There is a very high proportion of players from a very small number of the fee paying schools that play rugby because they have resources able to spend on rugby that barely exist for many AIL sides.

    Irish Rugby were and are doing a lot to expand the game and what Leinster are doing in Donnybrook and the other planned centres of excellence(4 more to be built) and what Munster have done in Musgrave Park and other planned centres in Fethard etc will see more players come through from the clubs system in years to come and assist in closing gap with the schools

  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    It is elitist by current structure and organisation and output in terms of who makes it as a professional as the numbers show

    It's farcical to try to play semantics on that fact

    the "route to professionalism" as you put it is massively skewed towards fee-paying schools.

    that's the reality of it.

    Again - we are talking about rugby - not any absolutely negligible numbers of actual Irish professional tennis players (is there even 1 actually making a living as a tour player - at top-ranked 616 in the world Simon Carr that's a no) as you have brought up twice now.

    The route to professionalism for golf in Ireland for the tiny number who make it is not dependant on private schools either, whereas the rugby system here most definitely is

    (P.S - English professional footballers are those who come from England in that survey)

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  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    I would accept that participation is a different story

    But I find it hard to call it any other way in terms of who will make it as a professional - not sure if I would see that changing or if there is a trend to point to?

    The Irish "route to professionalism" has a lot of similarities to the case (to a lesser extent I believe) for Rugby Union in England and Scotland also, but not in Wales or France.

  • Registered Users Posts: 14,773 ✭✭✭✭Fr Tod Umptious

    Based on the thread it has appeared in and given the information in the OP this must be the stupidest post of all time on

    the game of rugby in ireland is not elitist

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,611 ✭✭✭Lost Ormond

    Spot on Syd.

    I was also out at a schools rugby blitz today. well over 200 kids played rugby for 4 hours or so. and same thing about grounds. We had mix of kids who have been playing rugby in their clubs and schools all season(and many more before that) and there were lot more who were playing rugby games for the first time ever.

    Its totally on those who can grasp the difference between the 2 statements you make but those who criticise rugby refuse to admit or refuse to see what actually is the case on the ground. Shame.

  • Moderators, Politics Moderators, Social & Fun Moderators Posts: 14,585 Mod ✭✭✭✭Quin_Dub

    There are multiple players either in the Academies or on full professional contracts who did not play rugby at all in School - They are exclusively products of the Club Underage system.

    Furlong being the most high profile of the current crop , with Sean O'Brien another older example.

    In Munster you have John Hodnett and Tom Ahern who both came through the clubs along with Tony Butler, Ethan Coughlan and Edwin Edogbo in the Academy.

    And as others pointed out there are those that moved schools because of their Rugby ability which was developed in the local Clubs like Carbery and others.

    It's not ALL about the schools...

  • Registered Users Posts: 14,773 ✭✭✭✭Fr Tod Umptious

    There has been a narrative going around for over a decade that rugby is up there with soccer and GAA in Ireland as a "game of the people"

    This narrative has come from the media, from rugby fans, and from vested interests like the IRFU and their sponsors.

    The evidence for this is the people who followed Munster when they were doing well, or the full houses for Ireland games.

    But it can never be a "game of the people" if going to a expensive private school greatly enhance one's chances of getting to the pinnacle of the sport, i.e. playing professionally.

    None of the other sports mentioned need a private education to greatly enhance a kids chances to make it to the top.

    Of course there are other sports where wealth is handy to have like golf, tennis, rowing, cricket, motor sport etc, but none ever claim to be "games of the people".

    In the US where you could have four sports that could legitimately be called "games of the people" the players come from some of the most deprived areas in the country.

    And while the majority of the fans at college sports in the US may be middle class and white, the guys on the field are far from it.

    So it doesn't matter how much time anyone here spent at kids blitzes today, unless the parents of those kids have deep pockets their chances of reaching the top of the game is very much hampered.

  • Moderators, Politics Moderators, Social & Fun Moderators Posts: 14,585 Mod ✭✭✭✭Quin_Dub

    A lot depends on the definition of "Elitist" as well.

    For me Elitist means the you only gain access to something because of who you are or where you come from and that ability etc. is secondary.

    That is absolutely not the case in Rugby.

    The reason players from private boarding schools are more likely to enter Academies is down to the quantity and quality of training that they have had access to in the preceding 4 or 5 years.

    • A talented player involved in Club Rugby is getting maybe 3 hours direct coaching a week (2X90 minute sessions a week) and a match at the weekend
    • A talented player involved in Schools Rugby (not Private Boarding) is getting maybe 4-5 hours direct coaching a week ( 3 or 4 90 minute sessions a week) and a game each week.
    • A talented player in a Private Boarding school is getting multiples of the above as the coaches have huge access to them during the week - Morning , evenings , lunch times etc. along with a game

    So , each year there are maybe 15-20 Players taken into the 4 Academies combined across the country. Which category of player above is most likely to stand out as being "ready" for the Academy at 18/19 years old?

    I've spoken to Provincial Development Officers and they would tell you that the typical club player is about 18 months behind a Schools player at age 17 simply because of the comparative volumes of coaching received and that's not talking about the boarding school players who are another notch further ahead.

    In the other sports there is no Academy intake so all the players get the chance to level off against each other over the next few years - I'm thinking about Inter-county panels and the like - They all move up to play Club Football and Hurling and the playing field is levelled again and they get to move forward.

    The "gate" caused by the Rugby Academy system means that players at 17/18 years old that haven't had as much coaching at that point are disadvantaged . The limited number of places creates that unnatural filter but it's got nothing to do with "Elitism".

    The example of the US doesn't count as the Big sports there are essentially professional all the way up - You have high-schools with 20,000 seater stadia and fully professional coaching tickets through-out so the comparison just isn't valid.

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,317 ✭✭✭lawrencesummers

    In an effort to define the tangible that has led to the development of players are you not overlooking the intangible and very relevant fact that children of lower socio economic households will have less parental involvement and interest in their children doing extra curricular activities.

    Not only is there less interest in perusing activities for their children there is less money there to support them.

    I can see this in my wider circles where friends come from some very wealthy backgrounds down to very poor backgrounds and while the kids might not be privately educated their parents spend massive money and time on their extra curricular activities while others wouldnt have them going beyond the local soccer or GAA club.

    Maybe look at the parents of the current international squad and tell me how many of them work in Aldi, or are security agents in Dublin airport as opposed to well paid professionals. Very few i would wager.

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,653 ✭✭✭Dubinusa

    Interesting points

    I would guess that the schools players are from wealthier families.

    A lot of young lads play other sports too! There's a lot of competition.

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  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    Actually the stat I cited in the OP of this thread was that 52% of the 227 players (senior squads plus academies) came from private schools in Ireland.

    A very much not insignificant 32% came from public schools, and the balance from schools overseas (where I grant you there would be another chunk of private schools in there).

    It's not overwhelming though; if anything its skewing slightly more towards the public schools. What you're now seeing is increasing concnetration amongst the private schools (Blackrock & Michaels again) but some other schools that were heavy contributors in decades gone by like Terenure, Belvedere, St Mary's etc are now producing significantly less professional players.