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Worry and anger build in Irish women's rugby after IRFU briefing

Director of women’s rugby Anthony Eddy’s words have been met with a negative reaction.

Ireland won't be at the World Cup next year.
Ireland won't be at the World Cup next year.
Image: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

THE IRFU ARE struggling to read the room when it comes to women’s rugby and many of those in the room are feeling despair.

Yesterday, the union’s director of women’s and 7s rugby, Anthony Eddy, had the chance to steady the ship with an honest, positive, cohesive message that might have reassured those who care about the game that things will get better.

The message was clearly lost as Eddy’s words instead incited worry, frustration, and anger in some quarters.

Read the full interview with Anthony Eddy here.

Let’s just remind ourselves here that Ireland will not be going to the World Cup next year.

Whatever about men’s rugby being seen as a closed shop with only a few genuinely competitive nations, the women’s game has even fewer powerhouses. For Ireland not to be involved in the World Cup is a huge setback and a major failing.

The facts tell us that Irish women’s rugby has been in decline, or at the very least standing still while others have moved forward, for the past six years. Ireland won a Grand Slam in 2013, reached a World Cup semi-final in 2014, and picked up another Six Nations title in 2015.

There have been slim pickings ever since, with the 2017 home World Cup a huge disappointment in which Ireland failed to earn automatic qualification for the next edition. Now, they’ve missed out completely, while the IRFU’s stated target of winning a Six Nations title by 2023 looks extremely unlikely.

anthony-eddy IRFU director of women's and 7s rugby, Anthony Eddy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There is a review into Ireland’s World Cup qualification failure ongoing at present and while Eddy didn’t want to go into too much depth yesterday, what he did say about the campaign in Parma has been read as laying blame at the feet of Ireland’s players by many people, including players who were actually part of the squad.

Of course, Ireland’s players will accept that they didn’t perform to their potential in Italy. Their lineout was disastrous, they had scrum issues, they made basic handling errors, their discipline was poor, and they were stunted by repeated breakdown inaccuracies too.

Eddy said Ireland’s preparation had been better than the other competing nations but it does seem clear that Ireland’s players weren’t fully equipped to take on the challenge – something the IRFU needs to figure out.

Asked yesterday why Ireland appear to have gone backwards, Eddy cited the quality of the Premier 15s club competition in England while also noting how the French league has gone from strength to strength.

Why can’t the IRFU drive the All-Ireland League in that direction, Eddy was asked, and he responded that it’s “on the cards”. We wondered what has been happening for the past five or six years while the English and French have been making progress and Eddy alluded to another review at the end of the season.

As for the thorny issue of balancing 7s and 15s rugby, Eddy indicated that the IRFU believe their system works.

Given that the Ireland 7s team are also missing targets like Olympic qualification and consistent top-six finishes on the World Series, it’s easy to argue that both forms of the women’s game are suffering because of the split focus.

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anthony-eddy-and-david-nucifora Eddy and David Nucifora pictured in 2015. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Eddy said he was “concerned” about the failed 7s objectives but pointed out that they can still qualify for the World Cup Sevens next year. If Ireland do qualify, it’s hard to see that tournament capturing as much public attention as involvement in the 15s World Cup would have, but Eddy and IRFU performance director David Nucifora are convinced that 7s is the best way to grow participation numbers in women’s rugby. 7s is also an Olympic sport so there is Sport Ireland funding involved.

The negative reaction to Eddy’s media briefing has been widespread within the women’s game.

That Cliodhna Moloney, a player who is currently in the Ireland squad preparing for Friday’s Test against the US, felt the need to voice her displeasure about Eddy’s remarks speaks volumes for how the mood in Irish women’s rugby continues to spiral. 

The sad thing is that there are good news stories in the women’s game. Last weekend, Ballincollig RFC in Cork hosted a girls-only mini-rugby blitz with 200 girls across 24 teams. There is similar progress being made in several other clubs around the country, even if it’s not the case everywhere.

Ireland play against the US at the RDS this Friday and it should really be the start of a fresh chapter as the IRFU begin a rebuild.

But any of the good news is being drowned out as the voices at the top make the wrong noises and continue to lose the room.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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