Three Things Irish Rugby Gave the World

For a small nation, Ireland punches well above its weight on the global stage. At least that’s what we keep telling ourselves. Whether its music or literature, cinema or stage, you will find little nuggets of green gold at the bottom of all of life’s many rainbows. Rugby is no different, and we thought we’d look at three rugby phenomena, terms, phrases, call them what you will, that the Irish have given to the greatest sport on earth.

The Garryowen

Perhaps the most famous linguistic  gift we have given the game is the term garryowen. In its basic form, the high up and under kick is designed to put the opposing team under pressure, by allowing the kicking team time to arrive under it and compete for the high ball. The term comes from the Irish club of the same name,  Garryowen RFC, who are based in Limerick. The club has been on the go since 1884. Legend has it that the term became part of the rugby landscape when the club won a hat-trick of Senior Cup titles between from 1924 to 1926 and made the garryowen an integral part of its tactics. It must have been frightening!

Garryowen’s Conor Murray in 2009
©INPHO/James Crombie

The Choke Tackle

The choke tackle to the world via Ireland’s defence coach, Les Kiss, in the lead up to the 2011 World Cup. Rule changes had decreed that the side taking the ball into a maul and not emerging with it would lose it. The change in the law was duly noted by Kiss who saw an opportunity to exploit it. IN his mind there was little point getting the ball carrier to the ground and trying to turn the ball over when you could hold the same player up, stop him from moving and win your team the ball. It caused something of a seismic shift in rugby and became something of a trademark for Irish rugby teams. That was until others began to use it. Still, we’ll chalk it up as one of our ideas.

Stephen Ferris in 2011.

The 99 

Definitely not an ice-cream and one that harks back to a somewhat rougher times in the sport’s history. During the controversial 1974 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, captain, Willie John McBride came up with an odd call. It wasn’t a move or a line out code but was something of a call to arms. The tour was marred by violence with more boxing than box kicks and fisty-cuffs than fly-half flare. The 99 ball was allegedly based on the emergency telephone number 999 and the concept was simple – when there was a fight and the 99 ball was called, every Lions player on the pitch was expected to dive in and take part.  Rather than causing any actual physical harm, the point of the call was more to obfuscate the referee’s view and therefore discourage him from sending any one individual from the pitch……so were told anyway.

Willie John McBride in 1974