Rasmus Jorgensen | August 10, 2018
By Notre Dame standards, rugby is not a major sport. It’s a club sport, as opposed to varsity, which means it falls under the administrative umbrella of RecSports rather than Athletics. Justin Hickey, the men’s head coach and director of the men’s and women’s programs, is Notre Dame rugby’s only full-time employee.
But big things are happening through the club’s relationship with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), home of what is currently the world’s second best men’s national team.
In 1968, Notre Dame rugby made the University’s first athletic trip of any kind to Ireland. The team played five games and the tour gave several players a chance to get to know the home of their ancestors. Today, Notre Dame rugby and the IRFU, which organizes domestic tournaments in Ireland and sponsors the national teams, have a partnership designed to elevate both Notre Dame’s level of play and Irish rugby’s profile in the United States. Hickey traveled to Ireland last year to work with the national teams and encountered a culture devoted to the sport.
“They’re able to help provide a level of knowledge, a level of expertise around rugby that is almost incomparable here in the United States,” he says, “whether that’s on-field coaching knowledge or sports-science knowledge behind the scenes, like nutrition, stats and performance.”
For the IRFU, working with one of America’s premier collegiate athletics brands and symbols of Irish America offers a commercial boost. With more than 30 million Irish-Americans in the U.S., more than five times the population of Ireland itself, the Notre Dame connection offers Irish rugby a huge potential fan base.
“It certainly opens up avenues that wouldn’t normally be available to us,” says Joe Lydon, a former professional rugby player from England who now leads the IRFU’s international talent identification and development program.
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