Rugby is played at both club and national level around the world. Unusually Ireland fields a combined side made up of players from the Irish Republic (Eire) and Northern Ireland (Ulster).
The two most prestigious club competitions are the Super Fourteen, played between sides from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and the Heineken Cup, played between sides from England, France, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy. Club competitions also take place within individual countries. Both league and knockout competitions take place between clubs.
College rugby is not big business the way college gridiron is, although of course coaches take a keen interest in young players. Clubs will often have youth sides to help them spot young local talent. There is no organized draft – it is up to clubs to recruit as best they can. Transfer of players between clubs does exist, thought the sums paid are nowhere near as astronomic as those in soccer.
Annual international competitions take place in the same regional groupings. The Tri-Nations is between the three southern hemisphere countries and the Six Nations is between the six major European countries. These games are a bit like the Pro Bowl in that each country picks its best team from a mix of clubs. However, these are not exhibition games, they are deadly serious. After all, national pride is at stake.
International sides also undertake tours of other countries outside the main annual competitions. This is particularly important for Argentina who have a fine national side but are geographically isolated form the major international competitions. The British Isles, including the Irish, sides generally tour as a combined team known as the British Lions.
Once every four years there is a Rugby World Cup. The location rotates around the world in the same way as the soccer world cup or the Olympics. All of the major rugby-playing nations get to compete, including the USA and Canada. England are the current world champions.
Also rugby is currently a rapidly developing business. The sport has only been professional for a few years, and the clubs and unions are still trying to work out the best way to structure the various competitions so as to bring in enough money but not to put undue strain on the players. This is why I have not talked much about the format of the various competitions.
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