After the recent post questioning the dominance of private schools in Irish rugby and with the spreadsheet at the ready, it seemed only fitting to determine the best Irish rugby school. The following is based on the amount of players currently playing in Ireland professionally, without any further delay;
The top 10 Irish Rugby Schools for 2023
1. Blackrock College
Blackrock College is the undisputed heavyweight of Irish schools rugby. It has won the Leinster Schools Cup 70 times since their first in 1887. It’s been producing legends of the Irish game since the days of fergus Slattery & have since gifted us the twinkle toed genius of O’Driscoll & Ringrose, the follicle acumen of Shane Byrne & Luke Fitzgerald’s irksome punditry. Currently, they have former students in all of the provincial squads, 19 in total, making up 14% of provincial squads. The ‘Rock’ influence runs deeper than these squads, with alumni in current USA internationals AJ Maginty & Dylan Fawsitt & beyond the realm of players with Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen having attended.
2. St. Michael’s College
Often mentioned in the same sentence as it’s sister school Blackrock when speaking of the Leinster schools rugby factory, Michael’s is a rapidly developing powerhouse of the game. Currently they have 12 professional rugby players playing in Ireland with 10 of these in Leinster, two more than Blackrock. Gerry Thornley of the irish Times proclaimed them “Ireland’s leading rugby feeder school” in 2020, with James Ryan, Ross & Harry Byrne, Ronan Kelleher and Ryan Baird all past pupils it will be hard to disagree for many years to come. Remarkable when you consider they won their first Leinster senior cup in 2007.
3. Presentation Brothers College, Cork
A fee paying rugby factory school outside of Leinster? Meet PBC. ‘Pres’ has been producing Irish rugby players since it’s early days, has produced 22 Internationals, along with Lions Captains (Tom Keirnan), Grand Slam winning coaches (Declan Kidney) & World Rugby Hall of Famers (Ronan O’Gara). They currently have 7 former students in the Munster squad and have won the Munster Senior Cup 31 times. The rugby field is by no means the only area of success for former pupils, I wonder how Cillian Murphy & Ronan O’Gara would have got on in school? Cillian would have been the year above.
4. Ballymena Academy
Further dispelling the myth all Irish rugby players come from Dublin private schools, Ballymena Academy is the top ranking school in Ulster and the first non-fee paying school. Given the vast sums of money the schools above and many below invest into on field success, if we were using different criteria, it surely deserves an even higher position. It’s won the Ulster Schools Cup on three occasions and boasts Lions legend Willie John McBride and ERC winner & points machine David Humphries as alumni. The Academy currently have six professional rugby players in Ireland, all playing for Ulster.
5. Cistercian College, Roscrea
Uniquely positioned with a postal address in Munster yet due to a quirk of history competing in Leinster Cistercian College, Roscrea has six current players across all four provinces. Although founded in 1905, and competing in the Leinster Schools Cup, success has come much more recently, winning their first Leinster Senior Cup in 2015. The hardcore statisticians amongst you may have spotted that they are actually joint fourth, but I felt a non fee paying school deserved to be ahead.
6. Royal Belfast Academical Institution
The RBAI is an institution steeped in history, founded in 1814, it has been producing Irish Internationals since 1913 and continues to do so till this day. It has produced Ireland and Lions Captains & currently has six players playing professionally in Ireland, all for Ulster. Again for the eagle eyed ‘Inst’ as it’s known is strictly speaking joint fourth, but it being fee paying and having all players in one province knocked it down a place or two.
7. Christian Brothers College, Cork
‘Christians’ as it’s known is a long heralded rugby nursery based in Cork. Like arch rivals PBC, it has won the Munster Senior Cup 31 times and is a breeding ground for irish rugby players. It’s also developing a history for developing Irish rugby pundits, with Donal Lenihan and Donncha O’Callaghan notable former students. Currently they have five players playing professionally in Ireland, all at Munster.
8. Clongowes Wood College, Kildare
Clongowes sits in County Kildare, 30 kilometers from Dublin, it would be thought of as very much part of the Dublin private school rugby production line. Though a relatively small school, it has long been a competitor in the Leinster Senior Cup, winning it nine times, the first being in 1926. Clongowes takes it’s rugby very seriously which sees it churn out Irish internationals on the regular, including Gordon D’arcy, the Kearney brothers & VC winning Thomas Crean. Currently, the school has five players playing professionally in Ireland, four in Leinster & Tadgh Beirne in Munster.
9. Ardscoil Rís, Limerick
Ardscoil Ris is pehaps best known as the place that schooled Paul O’Connell and would be regarded as one of Munster’s great rugby nurseries. They are two time finalists of the Munster Senior Cup but are still awaiting their first trophy, which is still some acheivement when you consider the fee paying behemoths of CBC & PBC that dominate the competition. They have 4 players playing in Ireland at the moment, 2 at Munster and 1 each at Connact & Ulster.
10. St. Munchin’s, Limerick
A second proud Limerick rugby institution makes it to the final place in the list, though with four active Irish players it’s actually joint ninth. Founded in 1796, it is the oldest school on the list and it’s rugby history stretches throughout the decades aswell. Indeed, when the Irish Times looked at the distribution of Irish internationals between fee & non fee paying schools in 2017, St. Munchins had contributed more than any other school. Currently it has four professional rugby players playing in Ireland, all at Munster.