What Is Rugby Called In Ireland? (Explained)

Rugby is mostly called “rugby” in Ireland, but you will also hear it called by other names.

This is because there are other versions of oval ball sports played in Ireland, although none are as popular.

So, fans use nicknames to be clear when they are talking about one version governed by the Irish Rugby Football Union (the IRFU). These nicknames include:

  • Fifteens
  • Union
  • Rugger
  • Egg Ball

Let’s run through these names and their backgrounds.

Rugby Is Sometimes Called “Fifteens” In Ireland

Two different versions of rugby are regulated by World Rugby, the global governing body for Rugby Union.

One version is played with seven players on the pitch and is called Sevens, Sevens Rugby, or Rugby Sevens.

Historically, Ireland hasn’t had a strong tradition of sevens.

Recently, sevens has become more popular. The national men’s team qualified for the Olympics in 2021. The women’s team narrowly missed the cut.

The second version of rugby is played with fifteen players on the pitch. This is the older version and is usually the one known simply as rugby.

However, some clubs and players are involved in both types of sports. Fans will follow how Ireland does at the big sevens tournaments as well as the Six Nations.

This is when you may hear rugby being called “fifteens”.

For example, Ireland supporters will debate which players will successfully switch codes.

Hugo Keenan used to play sevens and now he’s an international at fifteens. Who’s next?

Why Irish Fans Sometimes Call Rugby “Union”

In 19th century England, schools and sports clubs played a variety of football sports under the general name of Football.

From the 1870s, there was a general split of rules and codes into two organizations. The round-ball version was governed by a body called Association Football.

The oval-ball version was governed by the Rugby Football Union. The English governing body still has this name, often shortened to the RFU.

When a separate governing body was founded on the island of Ireland in 1879, it took the name of the Irish Rugby Football Union. It still has this name today (the IRFU).

How rugby came to be called “union”

The next split within rugby was on whether players could be paid or not.

Those who wanted the sport kept amateur stayed with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Those who wanted players to be paid created a separate code called Rugby League.

Rugby League is often shortened to “league”.

Rugby Football Union is often shortened to “union” nowadays to distinguish it from rugby league.

Rugby league is nowhere near as possible as rugby union in Ireland. But there is an amateur league, and we do field an international team.

As the main writer on this website, I often use the term “union” or “rugby union” to be clear that I’m not talking about rugby league.

Is Rugby Called “Rugger” In Ireland?

I mentioned in a previous section that the two main football sports in 19th century England and Ireland were known as association football and rugby football.

Schoolboys shortened “association football” to soccer. Similarly, they shortened “rugby football” to “rugger”.

If you traveled back in time, it wouldn’t be uncommon to be hear something like this near Dublin:

I say, old chap, that was a smashing game of rugger, what, what?

I’m joking a little but that’s the point.

Nowadays, the term is very much associated in Ireland with a somewhat elitist or upper-class background.

“Rugger” is more likely to be said by people who don’t like rugby or who associate it with upper-class snobbery. It’s often meant to be pejorative.

This means that Irish rugby supporters are unlikely to call rugby “rugger”.

Irish fans dislike the term even more when applied to themselves

If you want to have some fun by winding up Irish rugby supporters, you should loudly exclaim that it’s great to meet some real ruggers.

Don’t believe me? I searched for the term on one of the most popular social media forums. Here are a couple of thread titles:

  • Can we lose the term “rugger”?
  • Is rugger an exclusively American word? Because it annoys the heck out of me.

The second title may seem reasonably restrained. But I inserted the word “heck” for what was originally in the title. The guy seemed genuinely triggered.

The people complaining are either Irish or English.

There are some bemused comments by American and Australian forum users who aren’t sure what the problem is.

Personally, I believe that players and supporters should use whatever term they like for the sport that they love.

Egg Ball In England

Egg ball is a way of referring to the shape of a rugby ball. It’s also used jokingly to refer to both rugby union and rugby league.

The players are also referred to as egg chasers.

The picture above is from an article on the launch of a rugby game for the Xbox back a few years ago.

What About Elsewhere?

England is very similar to Ireland in terms of what rugby is called. That’s what you’d expect between neighbors!

But you may be surprised about further shores. Check out these articles: