Home Rugby Opinion: “A Kick In The Teeth” As Irish Women’s Rugby Goes Backwards

Opinion: “A Kick In The Teeth” As Irish Women’s Rugby Goes Backwards

2017 Women's Rugby World Cup 5th Place Semi-Final, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 22/8/2017 Ireland vs Australia Ireland's Alison Miller and Jenny Murphy dejected after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Having prepared to whoop and cheer their way through the Women’s Rugby World Cup tournament in Ireland in August, the home fans were left hugely disappointed at a lacklustre campaign from Tom Tierney’s charges.

Within the camp, there had been issues between some of the players and the coaches.  Writing in the Irish Times during the tournament, Ruth O’Reilly discussed a moment where tensions had come to a head between herself and Tierney:

“We spoke on the phone that day and our relationship since then has been pretty dire . . . He had certainly lost the group by then, if not before then.”

Ireland had a poor tournament.  After initial pool wins notching up expected victories against Australia and Japan, they lost a key game against France and their performances tailed off after that with a loss when they faced Australia again and a final defeat to Wales which saw Ireland finish 8th overall.

Tierney’s tenure had reached its natural end and he stepped down as head coach.  It was expected that the IRFU would soon announce a successor following a post-tournament review.  On the 26th September, a video piece was published with Performance Director David Nucifora where he declared:

“We will advertise at some point soon, there’s no real rush on that. We’ll have someone in place in the coming months.  The preparation will start in the next month or so and we’ll be well enough prepared going into the Six Nations.”

It’s an interesting phrase, “well enough prepared”.  On the same day in September, Pundit Arena spoke to the new RFU Chief Exec Steve Brown who in contrast was talking of England’s club system and how the union wanted to support the growing numbers “so that we have the strength to really get [women’s rugby] fully professionalised. We’re at an early stage and I think we’re leading the way.”

Over 2.2 million players across the world are women, over a quarter of the total playing numbers.  The #ThisGirlCan campaign reportedly attracted 2.8 million women into sport. Even considering a disappointing home Rugby World Cup, the importance of maximising the focus and attention that there had been on the women’s game in Ireland must surely have driven the union to lead from the front, to put in place some autumn internationals and show a keenness to move into the next cycle with a new head coach – to seek a legacy for new players and fans. This has not happened.

Only today have the IRFU finally published a ‘Job Vacancy’ post for the Ireland Women’s Team Head Coach.  In contrast to Tierney’s full time three year contract, the IRFU have advertised a role that is just for a six month period and “on a part-time basis”.  The explanation of this seems to be because the union has struggled to attract a full time coach and therefore believe a part-time role may be more suited to a coach already working elsewhere.

Today’s news has drawn comment from current player Jenny Murphy who tweeted:

“A kick in the teeth for players. So much progress made by other nations and we take 5 steps backwards.”

The retired Ruth O’Reilly has said:

“I really wish the IRFU wouldn’t prove me right yet again. There is nothing “part-time” or “casual” when wearing a green jersey.”

Having announced an extended England training squad of 43 players ahead of their three internationals against Canada in November, it seems that England are continuing to lead the way while the IRFU appear content to approach next year’s Women’s Six Nations “well enough prepared”.

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