The semi-confusing nature of national teams in the British Isles

As I’ve babbled about before, the UK is divided into 4 ‘countries’ which are all actually part of the same sovereign nation.  However, they have individual sports teams, blah blah blah.  Well, here’s how those countries, plus the independent republic of Ireland, divide up for national teams.

Soccer
Teams (5): England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland
This is the one and only sport where all five regions/nations are represented independently.  It’s the only sport in which Northern Ireland is represented by its own national team.  This basically stems from a 100 year old dispute fueled by, you guessed it, religious differences.  England is traditionally the strongest team, followed by Scotland.  The other three are usually relatively weak by comparison.

Rugby Union
Teams: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland
The Ireland team actually consists of players from both Ireland and Northern Ireland.  All four teams are in “Tier One” but Scotland is usually weaker than the others.  Every four years the four teams combine to form the British & Irish Lions, competing against either South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand, but this is ONLY for these special occasions.

Rugby League
Teams: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland
Until recently, a single team called Great Britain represented the UK and Ireland but in truth most of the players were English as the sport is relatively unpopular in the other regions.  Now the teams compete separately, with England considered one of the premier teams and the others as developing nations.

Cricket
Teams (3): England, Scotland, Ireland
The England team actually represents England AND Wales but poor Wales is usually ignored.  The England/Wales team has Test status, meaning it’s among the world’s top tier.  Ireland and Scotland have ODI status, meaning they are considered top level teams in the short version of the game but not full cricket (which involves games that last 4 or 5 days).

International Rules Football
Team (1): Ireland
This is a fascinating situation in which the best Gaelic football players from Ireland and Northern Ireland form a national team and play against the best Australian rules football players from Australia in a sport that is a COMBINATION of the two.  The Ireland team only plays two games a year but usually in front of huge crowds.

So there you have it.  Of the major national teams of the British Isles, England and Wales are sometimes combined and sometimes separate, Ireland and Northern Ireland are sometimes combined and sometimes separate, and Scotland, now that the Great Britain rugby league team has been divided, is always separate.

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