My goal to learn something new every day
This weekend is the start of the Six Nations rugby tournament. The tournament, for anyone who doesn’t know (which is probably just about anyone outside of the nations involved), is an annual rugby union tournament played between England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy. It begins in February every year and lasts for around 7 weeks. After the rugby World Cup, which is every 4 years, it’s probably the biggest international tournament for the teams involved.
Anyway, I was talking about it with some students the other day, and whenever the topic of the UK gets brought up, it inevitably leads to questions about the difference between the UK, Britain, England, Wales and so on. And this time was no different. In fact, I had just coincidentally recorded a segment for my company’s podcast on the differences, which included a bit about sports. When it comes to soccer, all 4 nations of the United Kingdom play separately (that’s England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). The Republic of Ireland also has a soccer team, but they are not at all part of the United Kingdom and haven’t been for almost 100 years, much to the surprise of many of my students (still!). However, when it comes to the Olympics, the nations in the UK don’t compete separately, but rather together as the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic Team, also known informally as Team GB.
But back to the Six Nations. One of the students asked me about Northern Ireland, and without thinking, I just told them that Northern Ireland doesn’t play in the Six Nations. But after having said that, I couldn’t ever remember hearing about a Northern Irish rugby team, which doesn’t really make sense considering it’s played everywhere else in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland. I mean, they couldn’t be any worse than, let’s face it, Italy, so why isn’t there a Northern Irish team? Turns out that it was just my ignorance!
While Northern Ireland play separately in soccer, but with Great Britain at the Olympics, when it comes to international rugby, the Irish national rugby team represents the whole island of Ireland. So, Northern Ireland rugby players do play at the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup. I’m glad I found that out now, on my own, because that could have been embarrassing had I been caught out speaking to someone from Ireland/Northern Ireland! Just goes to show, there are plenty of things I think I know, that I’m probably totally wrong about.
And it’s not just rugby in which Ireland and Northern Ireland play together. The Irish national basketball, cricket, hockey and gaelic games teams also all represent the whole of the island.