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Neil Francis Has Declared Rugby To Be Ireland's New 'National Game'

Neil Francis Has Declared Rugby To Be Ireland's New 'National Game'
By PJ Browne Updated

Three weeks, wins against Scotland and England, and a Grand Slam on from Daire O'Brien and Co. on 'Against The Head' declaring that rugby is now 'The People's Game', Neil Francis has turned the clamor to claim the affections of the nation's sports fan up a notch further.

"We are now following suit with New Zealand in welcoming it as our national game," writes Francis in his Sunday Independent column.

His argument that rugby is now Ireland's national sport comes in a number of points.

This Irish team, he says, are always 'primed to win'. People hunger for that type of dependability. 1.3 million of them, in fact, tuned into TV3 for last weekend's Grand Slam-winning game against England. It's a number Francis thinks curious for what is labeled a 'minority' sport.

In his travels, Francis has found that rugby is embraced and followed by people from a wide range of backgrounds. He finds the day's number of female fans "incredible". That rugby is an all-Ireland sport - featuring players from various religious upbringings - is another factor which should be considered in its favour.

The Grand Slam-winning squad all being based in Ireland and high-class games being on our doorstep, as a result, is another mark in rugby's credit column for Francis.

Why would you want to go watch Burnley play with two or three Republic of Ireland players in their ranks when you can stay at home and watching international-class players do their stuff in Dublin, Belfast, Limerick , Cork or Galway?

Why does football not have a claim to be our national sport? Nobody cared about Friday's game against Turkey, says Francis. It is also a sport, he believes, in which we can never compete internationally.

What about hurling? No, says the 36-cap Ireland international. The rationale: he believes not enough counties are competitive.

"For the last 50 years Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary have won practically every All-Ireland," writes Francis.

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How inclusive a sport is it that no more than seven counties in total can ever hope to win an All-Ireland? What percentage of the population is that? Can we say right now that hurling is the people's game on this island? I don't think so.

Considering that hurling is back at mid-90s levels of competitiveness and a team other than the three he named are current All-Ireland champions, it's not a water-tight argument. In fact, it's where Francis's already leaky ship begins to sink. Detractors of Francis's argument will also surely point out that rugby has roughly the same number of teams who could hope to win a World Cup.

Strangely, he doesn't even acknowledge Gaelic football. Though, it does get a tangential mention in a brief reference to the International Rules series.

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Rugby's trump card over GAA, Francis thinks, is its international element. Crowds of Irish will travel Down Under for this summer's Test series against the Wallabies, just as they did to Chicago for November 2016's maiden win against the All Blacks. "The International Rules series? Give me a break."

Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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