International Rugby Board

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International Rugby Board
International Rugby Board logo.svg
Abbreviation IRB
Formation 1886
Type International sport federation
Headquarters Huguenot House
35–38 St Stephen's Green
Coordinates 53°20′19.04″N 6°15′18.69″W / 53.3386222°N 6.2551917°W / 53.3386222; -6.2551917
Region served Worldwide
Membership 101 Member Unions
19 Associate Member Unions
Official language English, French, Spanish
Chairman Bernard Lapasset (2nd term)
Vice-Chairman Bill Beaumont
CEO Brett Gosper (effective 15 August 2012)
Affiliations International Olympic Committee

The International Rugby Board (IRB) – to be known as World Rugby from 19 November 2014 onwards[1] – is the governing body for the sport of rugby union. The IRB has 100 full members and 18 associate members.[2] Its headquarters are in Dublin, Ireland.[3]

IRB is a member of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.

The IRB was founded in 1886 as the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) by the unions of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, with England joining in 1890.[4][5] The International Rugby Football Board changed its name to the International Rugby Board in 1998.[6][7]

The IRB organises the Rugby World Cup every four years, the sport's most recognized and most profitable competition.[8] The IRB also organizes annual international rugby competitions, such as the IRB Sevens World Series, the Pacific Nations Cup, and the Junior World Championship.


The minutes of the first formal meeting of the IRFB, from a meeting attended by Lyle and McAlistair of Ireland, Carrick and Gardner of Scotland, Mullock and Lyne of Wales

Until 1885 the laws of rugby football were made by England as the founder nation. However, following a disputed try in an international between Scotland and England in 1884, letters were exchanged in which England claimed that they made the laws, and the try should stand.[4] Scotland refused to play England in the 1885 Home Nations Championship. Following the dispute, the home unions of Scotland, Ireland and Wales decided to form an international union whose membership would agree on the standard rules of rugby football. The three nations met in Dublin in 1886, though no formal regulations were agreed upon. On 5 December 1887, committee members of the Irish Rugby Union, Scottish Rugby Union and Welsh Rugby Union met in Manchester and wrote up the first four principles of the International Rugby Football Board. England refused to take part in the founding of the IRFB, stating that they should have greater representation, as they had more clubs.[9] The England Union also refused to accept the IRFB as the recognised law maker of the game.[9] This led to the IRFB taking the stance of member countries not playing England until they joined, and no games were played against England in 1888 and 1889.[10] In 1890 England joined the IRFB, gaining six seats while the other unions had two each.[10] The same year, the IRFB wrote the first international laws of rugby union.[11]

In 1893, the IRFB was faced with the divide between amateurism and professionalism, which was nicknamed the "Great Schism". Following the introduction of working class men to the game in Northern England, clubs began paying "broken time" payments to players, due to the loss of earnings from playing on a Saturday.[12] Cumberland County Union also complained of another club using monetary incentives to lure players, leading to the IRFB conducting an enquiry. The IRFB was warned by all the chief clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire that any punishment would lead to the clubs seceding from the union.[12] The debate of broken time payments ultimately led to the 22 leading clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire to form the Northern Rugby Football Union, a sport today known as rugby league football.[12]

England's seats on the IRFB were reduced from six to four in 1911. The Australian Rugby Union, New Zealand Rugby Football Union and South African Rugby Board joined the board with one seat each in 1948, with England's seats being reduced to two, the same as the other home nations. The three Southern Hemisphere unions were given a second seat each in 1958.[13] The French Rugby Federation was admitted in 1978 and the Argentine Rugby Union, Canadian Rugby Union, Italian Rugby Federation and Japan Rugby Football Union were admitted in 1991.[10]

It is thought that in the late 1950s the IRFB was presented with the ideas of a world championship.[14] In 1983 the New Zealand Rugby Football Union and Australian Rugby Union each proposed hosting such a tournament. The following year the board committed to conduct a feasibility study. A year later there was another meeting in Paris, and the Union subsequently voted on the idea. It was the South African Rugby Board's vote that proved to be crucial in setting up a tied vote, as they voted in favour, even though they knew they would be excluded. English and Welsh votes were then changed, and the vote was won 10 to 6.[14]

Member unions[edit]

Member and Associated Unions
  Member Union
  Associated Union

There are 100 member unions and 18 associate member unions of the IRB, each of which are also affiliated to one of six regional unions. Membership of the IRB is a four-step process:[15]

  1. A Union must apply to become an associate member of its Regional Union
  2. After all membership criteria are met, including one year as an associate member, the Union is admitted to the Regional Union as a full member
  3. After completion of stages 1 and 2, and two years as a full member of a Regional Union, the Union may then apply to become an Associate member of the IRB. As an associate member, the union can participate in IRB funded tournaments but not the Rugby World Cup
  4. Following two years of associate membership of the IRB, the union may then apply to become a Full Member

Regional unions[edit]

Six regional associations, which represent each continent, are affiliated with the IRB and help to develop the fifteen-a-side game as well as Rugby 7's across the world. Not all members of the regional associations are members of the IRB. Below is a list of member and associate unions and their regional associations with the year that they joined the IRB. Associate Unions are in italics.


Further information: Confederation of African Rugby

16 Member Unions, 7 Associate Unions


Further information: Asian Rugby Football Union

16 Member Unions, 7 Associate Unions[Asia Unions 1]


  1. ^ The Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union was disbanded in 2010
  2. ^ "UAE become 100th full member of the IRB". RTE. 27 November 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 


Further information: Rugby Europe

37 Member Unions, 3 Associate Unions

North America[edit]

11 Member Unions, 3 Associate Unions

South America[edit]

8 Unions are IRB members


12 Unions are IRB members

Bands and tiers[edit]

The unions of the IRB are classified into four bands reflecting the level of development and the development strategy of the IRB:[16]

In addition to bands, unions are often referred to using the older tier system:[17]

  • "Tier 1" consists of the participants in the Six Nations Championship and The Rugby Championship
  • "Tier 2" consists of the remaining High Performance unions.
  • Other unions are classified as "Tier 3".

Membership figures[edit]

The IRB's largest members, ranked by number of participants in 2011, are:[18]

  1. England England (1.99 million)
  2. South Africa South Africa (651,000)
  3. United States United States (458,000)
  4. France France (361,000)
  5. Australia Australia (297,000)
  6. Scotland Scotland (217,000)
  7. Ireland Ireland (154,000)
  8. New Zealand New Zealand (147,000)
  9. Argentina Argentina (126,000)
  10. Japan Japan (122,000)


The Council manages and controls the affairs of the IRB.[19] The Council formulates and oversees the implementation of the IRB's strategic plan and application of policy decisions, and selects the host nation(s) for the Rugby World Cup. The Council considers recommendations of the General Assembly. The Council may admit or expel member nations of the IRB. The Council is also the supreme legislative authority of the IRB. Most Council decisions require approval of simple majority, but to amend the IRB's bye-laws, regulations, or the Laws of the Game requires approval of three quarters of the Council. The Council meets twice a year.

The Council is composed of 28 members, representing eight unions (countries) with two votes each, four unions with one vote each, and six regional associations with one vote each. Council representation and voting is composed as follows:[20]

(In total, European countries have 12 votes, Oceania countries have 5 votes, African countries have 3 votes, Asian, South American, and North American countries have 2 votes.)

Executive Committee
The Executive Committee, in accordance with IRB bye-laws 9.14 - 9.16, ensures the effective management and operation of the IRB.[22] The Committee formulates and monitors the implementation of the IRB's strategic plan, business plan, operational plan and budget. The Executive Committee consists of 10 members elected by the Council. It is composed of the Chairman (Bernard Lapasset, France), Vice Chairman (Oregan Hoskins, South Africa), the CEO, and seven other members.[23]

General Assembly
A General Assembly of the full membership is convened every two years.[3] The General Assembly may make recommendations to the Council, and may consider business that the Council has referred to it,[24] but the General Assembly has no legislative powers.[25]

The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the IRB are elected by the Council. The current chairman is Bernard Lapasset, previously president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR). He was elected new IRB chairman effective on 1 January 2008 following the Executive Council vote on 19 October 2007. Lapasset was re-elected in December 2011 for a second term until 2016. Previous chairmen include Syd Millar (2002 to 2007) and Vernon Pugh, QC (1994 to 2002).

In July 2012, Brett Gosper was appointed as the new Chief Executive of the International Rugby Board.[26]

Rugby World Cup, 2011[edit]

New Zealand hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2011. The rights for hosting this tournament cost NZ $150 million. The Government remains optimistic that this will be a money making venture, yet others have predicted up to a $500 million shortfall, which would largely be funded by taxpayers and ratepayers.[27] Considerable controversy has arisen over the fees imposed by the IRB on the host nation due to this shortfall. There have already been calls for a complete overhaul of the commercial model of the IRB from the New Zealand Rugby Union.


The sport of rugby union has been played at the Summer Olympics on four occasions, with the last being in 1924. The winners, and thus the reigning champions, were the U.S. team. Rugby union made one more appearance as a demonstration event but was then removed from the Games. The IRB has most recently been very keen to see it return to the Games and is adamant that the sport (specifically referring to rugby sevens) satisfies every respect of the criteria set out in the Olympic Charter.

The main problem for reintroducing the 15-man game to the Olympics is the 7-day turnaround required by IRB regulations for players to rest between games. Since the Olympics only officially run for 16 days, with only slight expansions allowed to accommodate sports such as football, this effectively makes it impossible to conduct a 15s tournament within the current Olympic schedule. This limitation does not apply to sevens, as games last only 14 minutes (20 in championship finals) instead of the 80 minutes in the 15s game. All of the events in the current IRB Sevens World Series, which feature a minimum of 16 national teams, are conducted within a single weekend.

But in furthering the IRB cause, the International Rugby Board became an International Olympic Committee Recognised International Federation in 1995, marked by a ceremonial signing by President Juan Antonio Samaranch prior to a match between Wales and South Africa in Cardiff.[28]

The IRB cites rugby union's global participation, with men playing the game in well over 100 countries, with women playing in over 50 as well; the IRB's compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code; and that a rugby sevens tournament could be (and generally is) accommodated in one stadium and is relatively inexpensive to play.[28] Not only is the sevens game successful in the context of the Sevens World Series and World Cup Sevens, it is also very successfully played in the Commonwealth Games; the sevens tournament at the 2006 Games in Melbourne set all-time attendance records for a sevens tournament.

As a result of this, the IRB applied to the International Olympic Committee for a Sevens tournament to form part of the Olympics. Subsequently, Sevens has been accepted into the Summer Olympic Games and will first be played in 2016 in Rio.


The IRB have recently[when?] released £18.6 million of funding over three years for tier two nations Canada, the USA, Japan, Romania, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Argentina will also receive additional support to enable it to retain its tier one status. The money, built up from successful World Cups, was released following a report commissioned by the IRB highlighting the growing disparity between tier one and tier two nations. (see IRB statement). This is in addition to the £10–12 million it normally gives out grants and tournament costs. The emphasis is on three areas infrastructure, high performance units and cross border competitions.

It was announced in April 2006 that tier-3 rugby nations Georgia, Portugal, Tunisia and Russia were identified as the key investment nations over the next three years. The program is designed to increase the competitiveness of international rugby union.


Japan playing Tonga in the Pacific Five Nations, 2006.

The IRB organises the Rugby World Cup every four years, the sport's most recognized and most profitable competition.[8] Despite the profitability of the Rugby World Cup, the majority of its revenues and viewers come from a small number of countries. For the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, 87% of viewers came from the Five Nations (England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland), 15% came from the Tri-Nations (South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand), with just 2% of viewers coming from all other countries.[29]

The IRB organizes annual international competitions involving Tier 2 nations. The Pacific Nations Cup, which has been played annually since 2006, involves the national teams of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Japan, and since 2013 has included United States and Canada. The IRB also organizes the Americas Rugby Championship, which involves "A" sides from Canada, the Argentina Jaguars, which absorbed the country's former A national side, a "USA Select XV", an A national team in all but name, and Uruguay.

The IRB also organizes international rugby sevens competitions, such as the IRB Sevens World Series, IRB Women's Sevens World Series and Rugby World Cup Sevens. The IRB organizes two competitions for under-20 national teams, the Junior World Championship and the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy.

Laws and regulations[edit]

The laws of rugby union are controlled by a standing Laws Committee, which is established by the IRB Council. The current chairman of the committee is Bill Beaumont. The Laws of the Game are formulated by the IRB, and are then circulated by the national Unions. The official laws of the game are written in English, French, Russian and Spanish. There are variations for under-19 and Sevens rugby. There are 21 regulations in total, these regulations range from definitions, eligibility, advertising, disciplinary, anti-doping and a number of other areas. The IRB also approves equipment, which are tested at an IRB Approved Testing House.

Experimental law variations[edit]

In 2006, the IRB initiated proposals for variations to the laws, which were formulated and trialled initially at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Further trials were set down for 2007 and 2008. The law variations aimed to push the balance between defensive and attacking play more in favour of attacking play, and to reduce stoppages for penalties and infringements.


The IRB is compliant with the WADA code. The IRB anti doping programme includes testing at the under 19 and under 21 level, sevens and senior 15 a side. Testing is a mix of in-competition at IRB organised events, as well as out-of-competition testing, which can occur at any time. In 2003, World Cup year, the IRB member unions undertook approximately 3,000 tests.[30] "Keep Rugby Clean" is a campaign message run by the IRB Anti-Doping Manager Tim Ricketts. The programme is supported by stars such as Brian O'Driscoll.[31]

World rankings[edit]

For more details on this topic, see IRB World Rankings.
Top 25 Rankings as 15 September 2014[32]
Rank Change* Team Points
1 Steady  New Zealand 93.75
2 Steady  South Africa 88.24
3 Steady  Australia 88.10
4 Steady  England 85.68
5 Steady  Ireland 83.44
6 Steady  Wales 80.70
7 Steady  France 80.01
8 Steady  Scotland 77.78
9 Steady  Samoa 76.59
10 Steady  Japan 75.39
11 Steady  Fiji 74.56
12 Steady  Argentina 73.98
13 Steady  Tonga 72.58
14 Steady  Italy 70.92
15 Steady  Georgia 70.46
16 Steady  Romania 68.42
17 Steady  Canada 68.01
18 Steady  United States 67.30
19 Steady  Uruguay 63.72
20 Steady  Russia 62.15
21 Steady  Spain 60.65
22 Steady  Namibia 58.78
23 Steady  Portugal 57.73
24 Steady  Hong Kong 57.63
25 Steady  South Korea 57.22
*Change from the previous week

The IRB publishes and maintains the World Rankings of the men's national rugby union teams. The concept was launched in October 2003, at the start of that year's world cup in Australia. The rankings are calculated using a Points Exchange system, whereby nations take points off each other based on a match result. Several years of research went into developing the rankings system, using an extensive database of international matches that date back to 1871.

The system's reliability is assessed in a number of objective ways, which includes predictions of current strength and responds to changes in form. The system takes into account home advantage, in that the home nation is treated as though it has an extra three rating points, effectively handicapping them, as they will gain less ranking points for a win, and lose more should they lose. In the case of a freak result, there is a maximum number of movements on the ranking that any nation can gain from one match.

If a nation does not play for a number of years they are considered dormant, and excluded from the rankings, upon returning, picking up from where they were excluded. If a nation is to merge or split, the highest rating of any of the rankings is inherited.

Currently all capped international matches are equally weighted, whether or not they take place within a competition or are played as tests; the sole exception to this is the World Cup final tournament.

Recognitions and awards[edit]

The IRB Awards were introduced in 2001, to honour outstanding achievements in rugby union. Prior to 2009, all of the awards were announced at an annual ceremony; the most recent such ceremony was held in London on 23 November 2008.

However, as a response to the late-2000s economic crisis, the annual ceremony only saw the International Player, Team, and Coach of the Year Awards presented in 2009 and 2010; all other awards were presented at different times throughout the year. The IRB reinstated a single year-end ceremony in 2011 after the 2011 Rugby World Cup.[33] Since then, it has chosen to present some awards at times relevant to those specific prizes—such as Sevens awards after the London Sevens, the final event of the IRB Sevens World Series, and the Junior Player award after the final of the IRB Junior World Championship. The bulk of awards will be presented at the year-end IRB Awards ceremony.

The current awards are:

At the year-end ceremony, the International Rugby Players' Association also hands out the following awards:

In the past, the IRB has also awarded:

The awards that recognise achievements in the preceding 12 months tend to be won by that season's most successful nation(s): France in 2002, England in 2003, South Africa in 2004, New Zealand in 2005, South Africa again in 2007. For those award categories that have nominees, a shortlist is drawn up by an independent panel of judges, who are all former internationals. The panel then reconvenes to choose a winner. The current judges are Jonathan Davies, Will Greenwood, Gavin Hastings, Michael Jones, Dan Lyle, Federico Méndez, Francois Pienaar and past Player of the Year winners Fabien Galthié and Keith Wood, with John Eales as convenor. The judges have a total of over 500 caps between them.

In 2006 an IRB Hall of Fame was established to chronicle the achievements and special contribution of the sport's players, coaches, administrators, match officials, institutions and other individuals. The Hall of Fame was inaugurated at the 2006 IRB Awards, when William Webb Ellis and Rugby School were named as the first two inductees. Hall of Fame inductees in 2007 were Pierre de Coubertin, Danie Craven, John Eales, Gareth Edwards and Wilson Whineray. The 2008 inductees were the 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team and its organiser Joe Warbrick, Jack Kyle, Melrose RFC and Ned Haig (for their roles in the invention of rugby sevens), Hugo Porta, and Philippe Sella. Since then, induction ceremonies have been held annually, except in 2010.

The last year for a single induction ceremony was 2009. Starting in 2011, ceremonies have been held at multiple locations around the world. Also, some or all of the inductions have had an overriding theme since 2009:

  • 2009 – Lions tours to South Africa; all candidates for induction were either Lions or Springboks.[34]
  • 2011 – The year's final set of inductions, held at the IRB Awards in Auckland on the night after the 2011 World Cup Final, was, according to the IRB, "under the theme of Rugby World Cup founders, visionaries and iconic figures".[35]
  • 2012 – The IRB's theme for this year's inductions was Rugby - a global Game, "celebrat[ing] Rugby’s expansion to become a global sport played by millions of men and women worldwide."[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "IRB to change name to World Rugby" (Press release). IRB. 28 August 2014. Retrieved 28 August 2014. 
  2. ^ "UAE become IRB Full Member Union". Retrieved 2012-12-04. 
  3. ^ a b "IRB Organisation". International Rugby Board. Archived from the original on 9 July 2006. Retrieved 14 July 2006. 
  4. ^ a b "Short history of rugby". Museum of Rugby. Retrieved 14 July 2006. 
  5. ^ "History of Rugby". Dallas RFC. Retrieved 14 July 2006. 
  6. ^ Souster, Mark (25 February 1998). "All in a name". The Times (London). 
  7. ^ "World rugby 1951-date". Rugby Football Union. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Rugby World Cup History". Rugby Football History. Retrieved 14 July 2006. 
  9. ^ a b "1880s". Rugby Football History. Retrieved 15 July 2006. 
  10. ^ a b c "History of the laws of rugby football". Rugby Football History. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  11. ^ "History of the Game". Retrieved 15 July 2006. 
  12. ^ a b c "1890s". Retrieved 15 July 2006. 
  13. ^ "Major team and individual sports". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  14. ^ a b "The History of RWC". Retrieved 28 July 2006. 
  15. ^ "International Rugby Board – Year in Review 2010". Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  16. ^ Regulations relating to the game (PDF 9.0MB). International Rugby Board. 2011. Regulation 16. Organisation of International Matches; p.151. 
  17. ^ International Rugby Board Strategic Plan 2004
  18. ^ International Rugby Board, Year in Review 2011, page 22,
  19. ^ IRB bye-law 9,
  20. ^ IRB bye-law 9.1,
  21. ^ Addleshaw Goddard, Putting Rugby First, July 2008,
  22. ^ IRB bye-laws,
  23. ^
  24. ^ IRB bye-law 8,
  25. ^ Addleshaw Goddard, Putting Rugby First, July 2008,
  26. ^
  27. ^ Ihaka, James; Dickison, Michael; Jones, Nicholas; Vass, Beck (26 April 2011). "$500m Rugby World Cup deficit". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  28. ^ a b "Rugby & The Olympic Games". Archived from the original on 8 July 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2006. 
  29. ^ Addleshaw Goddard, Putting Rugby First, July 2008,
  30. ^ "IRB adopts WADA code". Archived from the original on 4 September 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2006. 
  31. ^ "Keep Rugby Clean". Archived from the original on 14 July 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2006. 
  32. ^ "World Rankings". International Rugby Board. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  33. ^ "New IRB Awards presentation format" (Press release). International Rugby Board. 2009-05-28. Retrieved 2009-06-19. 
  34. ^ "Nine inductees to join IRB Hall of Fame" (Press release). International Rugby Board. 2009-10-23. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  35. ^ "Stars set for glittering finale at IRB Awards" (Press release). International Rugby Board. 2011-10-05. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  36. ^ "Chilean Rugby greats added to IRB Hall of Fame" (Press release). International Rugby Board. 2012-05-26. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 

External links[edit]