Neil Francis claims that rugby is now Ireland's national game – and he's angered a lot of people in the process
The retired second row, who's known for making controversial statements, has caused outrage with his latest claim.
Former Leinster player Neil Francis has caused controversy with his latest Sunday Independent column, claiming that rugby is Ireland's national game.
The Dublin-native, who played for Blackrock College before being called up to Leinster, professed his belief of this statement to be true in a Sunday Independent column published this weekend.
"I look around and see what is happening and I see what the kids are interested in, I see the national interest, I see the television figures, I see the sell-out crowds and the evidence of the sustained and broad appeal and it suggests strongly to me that rugby suits the Irish psyche and its attraction and success have more than just caught the imagination," he wrote.
"We are now following suit with New Zealand in welcoming it as our national game."
He ends the piece with nods to his alma maters Blackrock College and Leinster, while also giving private schools Belvedere College and Glenstal Abbey a hat-tip in the process.
"The conveyor belt continues to produce phenomenal quality for Leinster and this year's semi-finalists will undoubtedly produce at least half a dozen prime candidates for Leinster's already overflowing extended squads," Francis wrote.
"Congratulations to my Alma mater Blackrock College on a stunning first half of rugby in the final. Congrats to Belvedere, worthy champions over the last two seasons. Special congratulations to Glenstal on winning the Munster senior schools championship - an incredible achievement. There is a story in that one."
While Ireland's rugby fans are still buzzing from the high of winning the Grand Slam, the column was widely accepted to be tone-deaf, socio-economically naive and misrepresentative of the wealth of genuine national sports that Ireland boasts.
Sports fans took to Twitter to contradict the opinionated columnist's opinion, reminding the former rugby player of the array of other sports currently being played at high levels in the country.
Why are rugby commentators trying so hard to play this party line?
It never has and never will be “the people’s game”
— YBIG (@YouBoysInGreen) March 25, 2018
I really hate this “my sport is greater than your sport” rubbish.
Neil Francis ignores the fact that 2/3 of Irish Rugby Team went to Private Schools.
To wear a GAA county jersey you just need to be good. pic.twitter.com/wmJ1lT2lxq
— Brian Flannery (@BrianJAFlannery) March 25, 2018
I’m from Waterford city and I can tell you it’s Hurling , soccer then the rest, go way Francis boy ur talking shite D4
— Ken McGrath (@kenmcgrath78) March 25, 2018
Neil Francis thinks pub's packed on Paddy's day - sure it never happened before - equates to rugby being 'the people's sport'. What an out an out moron.
— Paraic Collins (@ParaicCollins) March 25, 2018
Hilarious! Rugby is way behind Gaelic Games & Football in popularity. Neil Francis needs to get out of D4land.
— Paul O'Brien (@PaulOBrienKil) March 25, 2018
I'm a rugby player. My favourite sport is Rugby. But GAA is the sport of the Irish people, and rightly so. Neil Francis is an unreliable analyst and just says things to create controversy, please don't take him seriously. https://t.co/SG32RYMzGc
— Michael Tuohy 🌹 (@MicTuohy) March 26, 2018
The Sunday indo malaise is now spreading to the sports writers, Neil Francis with a completely stupid claim about rugby been our new national sport, as a forward and at best, he was a superb ruck inspector
— Daithi regan (@daithi_regan) March 25, 2018
Francis' column claims that rugby has the edge over GAA in the way that it boasts an international element.
"Watch how many Irish people turn up in Australia for the three-match series in June. No longer a focal point for the diaspora. Ireland travel to win this summer. A major attraction," he wrote.
"The international rules series? Give me a break! How many travelled to Chicago in November 2016? A sea of green in Soldier Field."
This isn't the first time Francis has made a controversial statement based around his beliefs of the game.
Back in February 2014, he sparked controversy when he claimed that “gay people do not have any interest in sport” and that “only a tiny percentage are actively involved in professional sports of any kind."