There are still ‘huge swathes of the country where rugby is alien territory’ with GAA and soccer well ahead of it in terms of popularity.
That’s according to Newstalk Breakfast presenter Shane Coleman after a new survey found that nearly one-third of people view rugby as their favourite sport.
The study, commissioned by Ireland Rugby sponsor Energia, found that 31% view rugby as their favourite sport, compared to 27% for soccer and 23% for Gaelic football.
Some 19% chose hurling or camogie.
Despite the high popularity of rugby, just 61% said they planned to watch Ireland’s upcoming World Cup campaign.
Shane said rugby has done an “amazing job” of marketing itself over the last 20 years – but it is still well behind GAA and soccer.
“By the way, I was watching rugby and cheering on the Irish rugby team when a lot of those people who say rugby's their favourite sport weren't even looking at it,” he said.
“I mean, the Irish team is winning and that's a huge factor.
“Rugby's done an amazing job at marketing itself and hats off to all because when I was a kid, there were only tiny pockets of the country that really were interested in rugby and that has changed – but there's still huge swathes of the country where rugby is alien territory.
“I mean, there's a World Cup on, you don't see the bunting up in large chunks of Dublin that you would if the soccer team were there.”
He said rugby has done a “really impressive job” increasing its personality – but he still rejects the Energia findings.
“It is the number one armchair sport in this country and again, sorry, I'm not saying that in any kind of glib way,” he said.
“I think rugby's done a huge job in marketing itself … and, as I said, the fact that we're winning helps.
“It's not bigger than [GAA] or soccer. I mean, it just isn't. [The survey] is wrong. I mean, that's like, what match would you like to watch?
“When it comes to participation levels, it is well behind GAA or soccer.
“If Ireland were playing in the football World Cup, you would see bunting up all over the city; it would be much, much bigger than this.”
He admitted that rugby has a “different demographic” than the other sports – warning that the sport still has an ‘elitist’ element to it.
“Look, class does come into it,” he said.
“I mean, there was a survey done a couple of years ago of the players playing for the four provinces and 20% of the players playing for the four provinces came from two schools.
“If you look at the Irish rugby team, the vast majority of them, if you exclude the number of overseas players and there are a number of those - not unique to rugby, I should say - but the vast majority of the players playing for Ireland went to a small number of schools.
“There are exceptions. You have your Tadgh Furlongs and Robbie Henshaw and so on – but they are the exceptions.
“It is confined to a small percentage just because that's just reality.
"I'm not saying anything particularly provocative, but one of the reasons why the Team of Us thing kind of grinds my gears a little bit is because I think rugby still has work to do before it is the Team of Us.
“I don't think it is the Team of Us.”
Despite his reservations about the sport's popularity, Shane said he will be “absolutely rooting” for Ireland throughout their World Cup campaign which begins this Saturday.