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Drive for seventh place needn't mean the legacy of this World Cup is lost

There’s plenty about the women’s game that is going in the right direction, but all rugby stakeholders should feel invested in growing it further.

LEGACY IS A fine thing.

It’s beautiful word all by itself, but it can turn ugly when it’s tossed around carelessly. It’s easily thrown around too, because it lends itself to so many vagaries and long-term wait-and-sees that there’s little consequence for organisations to just tag it on to a concept that may or may not have had any lasting impact.

Going into this World Cup, the hope was that Ireland’s performances on home soil would be the thing to fuel a legacy of growth and enthusiasm about the women’s game.

For women’s sport, it’s never quite that easy.

The Ireland team huddle before the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This week, a coach at a south Dublin club who boast a Division 1 UBL side at senior level found herself having to argue tooth and nail for the three girls’ teams under her remit to be permitted the use of more than a third of the field to train on while an underage boys team made use of the rest.

The only shock would be if she were the only one feeling the need to rail against status quo to gain some manner of parity of resources.

The IRFU are growing their investment in the game from the top down, promising to continue a 25% year-on-year increase as the budget gets stretched from €1.7 million in the 2016 accounts to €2.6 million come 2018.

Hearts and minds are as just important as money, however. So after Ireland didn’t spark the imagination we had hoped through either their results or their style of play, it’s even more important for club administrators and organisers to deliver parity and an environment that people want to play in.

Eimear Loughnane from Dublin Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Because Ireland’s stutter through the tournament doesn’t mean the whole project has been a failure. Their presence drew the crowds, whipped up a frenzy and got people thinking and talking about women’s rugby, sport. More importantly, it had them watching.

We’ve written before how this Irish team are an example that heroes and icons aren’t completely necessary to propelling someone to excel in sport. But they help because they spark something within a kid that makes them want to run faster, jump higher or bulldoze through tackles.

Alison Miller with Kayla Sauvao Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

And by having the World Cup on this island girls and boys have had the chance to watch. Maybe they could see Ali Miller scything through Australia defenders, or Jenny Murphy hitting ball carriers and making them stay hit, Maz Reilly winning a stream of line-outs or Ciara Griffin forcing her way over gainline after gainline.

Portia Woodman celebrates scoring her fourth try with teammates Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

And the icons and heroes for the future rugby players don’t have to be Irish either. There’s not a runner alive that wouldn’t like to be a little more like Usain Bolt. Nor a ball-striker who doesn’t envy Leo Messi’s sorcerer’s control.  So it could be the scorching pace of Portia Woodman, Magali Harvey and Naya Tapper that stirred some viewers, the terrific passing skill of Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali and Caroline Drouin or maybe it was simply that someone like the 5’0″ 55kg Selica Winiata and the 6’0″ 95kg Safi N’Diaye can both play this game for all shapes and sizes to the highest level.

Before those brightest of this tournament’s stars go into action this afternoon to sort out the destination of the trophy and the precise order of the top five, Ireland’s tournament will come to an end with a distinctly off-Broadway feel.

Having kicked off 17 days ago under bright lights, darkening skies and in front of a vibrant expectant set of supporters in UCD, they will today be an appetiser backdropped by grey concrete and clouds as crowds grow more and more sparse.

There is plenty at stake. Head coach Tom Tierney will face a post-World Cup review with a contract that expires in December and a third defeat in five would leave Ireland eighth and outside the seven automatic qualifying places for the next World Cup.

Going through the qualification process for 2021 wouldn’t necessarily be the worst prospect for a team and a sport that is all too short on Test matches. And perhaps by the time Ireland arrive at the next tournament we will see the fruit of whatever seedlings of legacy were planted this month.

But it will still take effort, care and attention from all sides and stakeholders to make sure the game keeps growing in tandem with – and not in the shadow of, or in the patch of space left vacant by – the male game.

Ireland

15. Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster)
14. Eimear Considine (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster)
13. Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)
12. Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)
11. Alison Miller (Old Belvedere RFC/Connacht)
10. Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster)
9. Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster)

1. Lindsay Peat (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)
2. Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)
3. Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster)
4. Ciara Cooney (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)
5. Marie-Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster)
6. Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s College RFC/Leinster) Capt
7. Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster)
8. Heather O’Brien (Highfield RFC/Munster)

Replacements:

16. Leah Lyons (Highfield RFC/Munster)
17. Ilse Van Staden (Cooke RFC/Ulster)
18. Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians RFC/Connacht)
19. Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster)
20. Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke RFC/Ulster)
21. Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union RFC/Ulster)
22. Sene Naoupu (Harlequins RFC)
23. Mairead Coyne (Galwegians RFC/Connacht)

Wales

15 Elinor Snowsill (Dragons)
14 Elen Evans (RGC)
13 Gemma Rowland (Dragons)
12 Hannah Jones (Scarlets)
11 Jasmine Joyce (Scarlets)
10 Robyn Wilkins (Ospreys)
9 Keira Bevan (Ospreys)

1 Caryl Thomas (Scarlets)
2 Carys Phillips (c) (Ospreys)
3 Amy Evans (Ospreys)
4 Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys)
5 Mel Clay (Ospreys)
6 Alisha Butchers (Scarlets)
7 Rachel Taylor (RGC)
8 Sioned Harries (Scarlets)

Replacements:

16 Kelsey Jones (Ospreys)
17 Gwenllian Pyrs (RGC)
18 Cerys Hale (Dragons)
19 Shona Powell-Hughes (Ospreys)
20 Lleucu George (Scarlets)
21 Sian Moore (Dragons)
22 India Berbillion (Dragons)
23 Jodie Evans (Dragons)

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