It’s an interesting time for women’s rugby in Ireland.
Saturday saw another milestone reached with the first double-header taking place at Energia Park where Leinster’s opening pre-season friendly of the summer acted as the curtain-raiser for Leinster’s women who opened their interprovincial series with a 34-6 victory over Connacht.
This was the first round of the women’s interprovincial championship which has been extended this season as to offer more competitive game-time to Ireland’s top players in what is a hugely important year for the sport.
Next summer, Ireland will bid to qualify for the 2021 Women’s World Cup. Their disappointing showing at the 2017 showpiece event saw them miss out on automatic qualification which means that there is danger of not qualifying for a World Cup for the very first time.
Former centre and Ireland’s most-capped international, Lynne Cantwell, believes that it would be detrimental to the growth of the sport in Ireland if Adam Griggs’ side fail to qualify.
“Yeah, I think it will (be detrimental),” Cantwell said at the launch of “Liberty Fields”, the latest story of Guinness’ “Made of More” series.
“I think that’s just natural for that to be the case. There’s a huge risk in that…it probably will have a negative effect.”
Cantwell is a couple of months into her new role as Chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport committee and she is well aware of some of the difficulties which currently faces Irish women’s rugby at a high-performance level.
Most notably, striking the balance between the 15s game and 7s.
Rugby 7s has been growing rapidly in Ireland over the last few years and the IRFU have put an emphasis on growing this strand of the sport which is evident in the key objectives of the Women in Rugby Action Plan 2018-2023.
In Cantwell’s opinion, currently, Ireland do not have the depth to succeed at an elite level in both codes.
“At high-performance level, I think the debate is around 7s and 15s. I think they can both exist, and both prosper in their own right. At the moment, because of the numbers that we have, we don’t have enough in order for both to thrive. And I think there’s still work to be done there.
“At 15s level, the main goal for 2020 is to qualify for the World Cup, because we haven’t done that yet. And what we see is a structure being put in place for more competition and more S&C in provinces in order for that to happen.”
One of the main objectives of the IRFU’s Women in Rugby Action Plan is to achieve greater playing numbers in women’s rugby at grassroots level which will hopefully lead to a greater pool of players operating at an elite level in the future as Cantwell explains.
“I don’t think it’s (Action Plan) ambitious enough because I would be mega ambitious and I know what other countries can do and we have to start somewhere. I’ve been involved with women’s rugby or Irish rugby for 17 years, as a player for 13 and now four on the other side of it.
“I know where we can be. And we aren’t there and this is a plan to try and get us some step of the way. So we have to trust it and be hopeful. The main focus of the plan is participation and increased numbers on the ground which is obviously going to flow through to the top fingers crossed.”
Pictured at the unveiling of “Liberty Fields”, Guinness’ new 5-minute documentary and TV advert, in the Guinness Open Gate Brewery are former Irish International Rugby Player and Chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport Committee, Lynne Cantwell, former Irish International Rugby Player, Jamie Heaslip and RTE producer Elaine Buckley.