Ireland v Wales: How big is this rugby rivalry? Where is it played? And who wins it?

Ahead of the Six Nations 2021, we look at one of the fiercest rugby rivalries in the test arena: Ireland v Wales.

Ireland and Wales might not compete for a specific trophy, but their rivalry is one of the most fiercely contested within the Six Nations Championship.

The fixture, which is 139 years old, has a long and heated history, which caught fire in 1914. On the eve of their Championship match, the Welsh team — and the ‘Terrible Eight’ forward pack — were allegedly set upon in a Belfast theatre by their opponents. 

The following day, Wales won the fight and the match.

Since then there have been some notable flashpoints, most notably in 1977 and 2005, while in the last decade matches between the sides have decided the destination of the Six Nations Championship more often than not. 

“Probably, out of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most,” Warren Gatland noted in 2009.

When was the first match?

Ireland and Wales first contested a men’s test match at Lansdowne Road in Dublin on 28 January, 1882, a meeting that predated the Home Nations Championship. Wales won that first match by two goals to nil, and followed that up with a 1-0 victory — secured through a Buller Stadden drop goal — when the teams met in Cardiff for the first time on 12 April, 1884.

The first women’s test match between the two teams took place during the Women’s Home Nations Championship 1996. In Dublin on 3 March of that year Ireland won 22-6. The sides met again, at Brewery Field in Bridgend, on 26 January, 1997, with Wales emerging victorious 32-5.

Where is it played?

The Principality Stadium in Cardiff will play host to the men’s Six Nations 2021 meeting between the sides on 7 February. Constructed for Rugby World Cup 1999, the stadium sits on the site that first hosted the fixture in 1884. Ireland were hosted at venues across South Wales until 1955 when Cardiff became the permanent home for the Welsh men’s national team, bar two seasons in the late 1990s when the team played at Wembley Stadium in London.

November’s 32-9 victory for Ireland’s men against Wales in last season’s Six Nations was played at the Aviva Stadium, which sits on the same ground in Dublin that the first match had been played on 138 years earlier. Wales were hosted at grounds in Belfast and Limerick as well as Dublin between 1882-1952, when the Irish capital became the sole venue for the fixture. Two matches, in 2008 and 2010, were played at Croke Park while the Aviva Stadium was being constructed.

Old Belvedere RFC in Dublin hosted the first women’s test between the two sides. The fixture has since been contested at club grounds across both Wales and Ireland. Energia Park in Dublin and Cardiff Arms Park are currently used for the corresponding matches.

Do the teams play for a trophy?

No, neither the men’s nor the women’s teams play for a specific piece of silverware, such as the Calcutta Cup, when they face each other.

Who wins it?

Of the 131 men’s test matches played between the two sides, Wales have won 69, Ireland have emerged victorious on 55 occasions and there have been seven draws. Wales’ biggest winning run came in the 1970s, a decade in which they lost just one match against their Irish rivals (the first, in 1970) and put together a five-match winning run between 1975-1979.

However, Ireland have held the upper hand in the fixture during the professional era. Since the Five Nations Championship in 1996, the Irish have won 20 of the 32 fixtures played, including a five-match winning streak between 2001-2004. Andy Farrell’s team, meanwhile, are currently one win away from matching that run ahead of the teams’ meeting on 7 February.

Wales also hold the edge in the head-to-head between the nations in women’s tests, having won 16 of the 27 matches played. Those victories include an eight-match winning run between 1997-2004. Ireland have fared better in recent years, however, winning eight of the previous 11 encounters — including a six-match winning streak between 2012-2017. That run came to an end at RWC 2017, when Wales secured automatic qualification for RWC 2021 with a 27-17 victory.

Who has played in the fixture the most times?

No player has appeared in the fixture more times than former Ireland and British and Irish Lions hooker Rory Best, who won 18 test caps against Wales. Five of those appearances came while wearing the captain’s armband. Best, though, was a replacement in four of his 18 matches against Wales, meaning that Brian O’Driscoll has started more Ireland-Wales matches than anyone else. All 16 of the World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee’s appearances against Wales came as a starter, while he led Ireland as captain in 10 of those matches, more than anyone else.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given he has appeared in a world record 152 test matches to date, Alun Wyn Jones has faced Ireland on more occasions than any other Welshman. Jones has appeared in the fixture 15 times, one more than Gethin Jenkins and two more than George North, Justin Tipuric and Leigh Halfpenny. Jones has captained Wales seven times against Ireland, one more than Arthur Gould and and his predecessor, Sam Warburton.

Who has scored the most tries?

World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Johnnie Williams scored eight tries in just five tests against Ireland between 1907-1911. The Wales winger’s haul included two hat-tricks, scored at Cardiff Arms Park in 1907 and Lansdowne Road three years later. His fellow Hall of Fame inductee, O’Driscoll, is the leading Irish try-scorer in the fixture. The legendary centre scored seven tries in his 16 appearances against Wales.

Who has scored the most points?

Former Wales fly-half Neil Jenkins has scored more points in the fixture than any other player. 113 of the metronomic kicker’s 1,049 test points came against the Irish. Current Ireland number 10, Johnny Sexton has amassed 108 points against Wales, while another reliable Welsh kicker, Stephen Jones, scored 107 points in the fixture. If Sexton lines up against Wales on 7 February he will have the opportunity to overtake Jenkins’ haul.

Has anyone ever been sent off?

Only two players have ever been shown a red card during an Ireland-Wales fixture — and both came following the same incident. Ireland number eight Willie Duggan and Wales second-row Geoff Wheel were sent off by referee Norman Sanson for fighting during the teams’ Five Nations match in Cardiff on 15 January, 1977. In being shown red, the two players became the first to be sent off during a Championship match. Wales coped better with 14 men, and ran out 25-9 winners.

Has the fixture taken place at Rugby World Cup?

Yes. The two teams have met three times at a men’s edition of Rugby World Cup, dating back to the inaugural tournament in 1987. Wales won that Pool 2 encounter at Athletic Park in Wellington 13-6. Eight years later the sides met again, at Ellis Park in Johannesburg during RWC 1995, with Ireland emerging victorious by a single point 24-23, as Wales were eliminated at the pool stage. The teams’ most recent Rugby World Cup meeting came at New Zealand 2011 when Wales won the quarter-final match 22-10. Coincidentally, that match was also held in Wellington, albeit at Wellington Regional Stadium.

The nations have only met once at a women’s edition of Rugby World Cup, but it was an important encounter. Wales beat Ireland in the seventh-place play-off at Kingspan Stadium on the final day of RWC 2017. With their 27-17 victory in Belfast, Wales secured automatic qualification for New Zealand 2021 at the hosts’ expense.

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Last updated: Jan 22, 2021, 11:31:00 AM
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