Last week, World Rugby revealed the road which Ireland must travel if they are to qualify for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Adam Griggs’ side must enter a ‘qualification pathway tournament’ in September 2020 which will see them play Italy, Scotland and the winner of the 2020 Rugby Europe Women’s Championship. The winner will qualify for the World Cup.
Unfortunately for Ireland, their disappointing performance at the 2017 World Cup which saw them finish in eighth place overall, means that they must take the scenic route to the showpiece event in 2021 which will be held in New Zealand.
Performances in the last two years haven’t improved much and after causes for optimism in 2018, Ireland finished 5th in this year’s Six Nations after recording just one win, their lowest finish in 13 years.
It must be said that Ireland are in the midst of a rebuilding process with many players receiving their first international caps in the last 12 months and veteran Ireland prop Lindsay Peat is proud of those players for not shirking their responsibility but admits it’s tough for them to get such a harsh introduction to the Test-level stage.
“I’m extremely proud of them. They’re a very young team, they never shied away from the responsibility,” Peat said at the launch of the Union Cup, Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament.
“We never shied away from taking responsibility. It’s very harsh learnings because for a lot of them, it was their first Six Nations and you don’t know the level of international rugby until you’re there. So, you get hit, you get hit hard and you’re like ‘oh my lord, my lungs are out my back’.”
Peat reveals that the disappointing campaign has pulled the playing group closer together but it’s not long until the frustration becomes evident when she speaks about how other countries will be involved in Test matches this summer while, as of yet, Ireland won’t play their next competitive fixture until November though it is hoped some summer Tests will be announced in due course.
“There’s a huge amount that needs to be done because now France, England, Canada, New Zealand and the USA playing all those games during the summer and what are we doing? What are we doing?
“It’s invaluable to play rugby at that level. That puts your skills under pressure, that puts your game management under pressure. That’s invaluable. I can’t stress that enough. I’m not pointing fingers, I’m just stating the facts.”
With semi-professionalism taking hold across many nations including New Zealand and Australia in addition to England becoming the first fully professional women’s rugby nation from the beginning of this year, there is serious concern that the gap between Ireland and the rest will continue to widen.
The IRFU published its long-awaited ‘Women in Rugby‘ action plan for 2018 to 2023 in October last year with the main goal to increase playing numbers in women’s rugby at adult, 3rd level, youth and schools level which will ultimately yield depth and competition for places down the line.
However, the benefits of that investment are long-term and Peat believes Ireland are in need of a sponsor to come in to help in the short-term.
“Players will do whatever it takes but we need a big, big sponsor to come in and roll out behind us. We’re here talking about equality today. Obviously, we’re here from an LGBT angle and I’m obviously a huge advocate for equality for women in sport.
“If we’re serious about that then people need to…It’s actions, I’m tired of the talk now at this stage. I need actions because I wanted to be the best professional rugby player. Not working on an amateur basis, I need to be a professional athlete across everything. I think the girls will do that as well. The endeavour isn’t questioned but how do you become that elite player with some of the minimal tools that we have?”
Peat has had a distinguished career in rugby but at 38, she’s unsure whether she will continue to wear the green jersey. There are so many different factors at play in coming to such a decision and none more important than family.
“At the minute, I haven’t fully made a decision in that sense. Regardless of whether I go on to play or not, this is a bigger issue that I stand behind, regardless. Because I want Ireland on the world stage. Whether I’m part of that or not, I want us to be a professional outfit.
“I want people to be talking about us for the right reasons. So, my situation is very difficult because, in that sense, I’m taking time away from my family, my wife and my son. It puts an awful lot of pressure on our family.”
In addition to family constraints, the decision will also be based on what Ireland’s head coach thinks and to whether he believes Peat can still excel at the highest level.
“I’ve briefly talked to Claire [Peat’s wife] and we’ll look at that. She’s been great and she said ‘it’s your choice if you still have stuff to give’ and obviously then, that has to roll in with Adam [Griggs] and whether he wants me involved. Whether I’m good for the team, whether I’m up to the standard. I would hate to keep flogging a dead horse.
“If I’m up to the standard that makes me an essential part of driving this team forward and being able to perform. I just don’t want to be a part of that. I want to perform, I want to be recognised as the top players as part of the top team. That’s where it’s about driving individual standards which benefits the collective. So, I suppose, it’s a lot of people to talk to.”
After an injury-disrupted season, the focus for Peat is to get back playing rugby on a regular basis and that starts with her club Railway Union as they prepare for their All Ireland League semi-final against Old Belvedere this weekend.
“AIL semi-final, we haven’t got past this before so I just want to get back to being able to play my rugby consistently. Try to get back into the team for the semi-final! I’ve been on the bench and the girls have been awesome this year. That’s the other side, how do you integrate players back in, how do we feed them up to provincial. There’s just so much to do to link everything in.”
Looking ahead to the future, there is certainly no shortage of motivation among the current crop of Ireland players as Peat reveals the excitement is already building with World Rugby’s announcement last week of the World Cup qualification tournament which Griggs’ side must undertake.
“The Whatsapp went on fire and all the chat was ‘how are we going to do this, girls?’ We’re no way we’re letting this go, we have to make the World Cup. Now the curtains have been opened and we can see what the plan is.
“Obviously from World Rugby, you want to give everyone an equal chance to get in but it always makes it a lot harder because you have a lot of obstacles to overcome. The onus comes back on us to make sure we’re pushing the standards to be there.”
A positive which can most definitely be taken from Ireland’s disappointing Six Nations campaign is that the support and interest in women’s rugby continues to grow with a record crowd of 6,000 turned out to support Ireland in their clash against France in Donnybrook.
Peat realises the importance of acting on that support.
“It’s a huge positive. I can’t thank all the fans who come out enough, and especially Dads who played rugby and now have daughters, and they see the importance of it. We need to help the hundreds of volunteers to grow the game within communities.
“That’s where it’s essential that we now action that because we don’t want to lose that momentum, we don’t want to lose that enthusiasm.”
Lindsay Peat was speaking at the launch of the Union Cup, Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament which was launched at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium today. The two day festival of rugby will be held this June 8-9th at Dublin’s DCU with an expected 45 teams from 15 countries to participate. Union Cup Dublin will host a dedicated women’s tournament for the first time alongside the men’s.