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Unwanted spotlight on women's rugby during window of opportunity for Ireland

Energia Park will host Ireland’s final game of the Six Nations.

IRELAND TARGETING A third-place finish in this year’s revamped Six Nations should be the main area of focus heading into this weekend.

ciara-griffin-speaks-to-her-team-after-the-game The Ireland team after their clash with France. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The best of the chasing pack behind defending Grand Slam champions England, and fellow tournament favourites, France, would be satisfying end to Ireland’s campaign. A win over Italy at Donnybrook today [kick-off, 12pm RTÉ 2] would also put Adam Griggs’ side in the ascendancy ahead of their meeting in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Due to delays caused by the pandemic, the Women’s Six Nations has a window of its own this year. With the men’s tournament already completed, the women’s championship has a greater slice of the TV and media coverage than it would normally get.

A big opportunity for further growth.

But there has been a less favourable spotlight on women’s rugby at home this week. After weeks of discussion around status and the direction of the Ireland women’s 15s programme, the conversation shifted to structural issues in recent days.

It began with a press conference involving Griggs on Tuesday in the aftermath of Ireland’s heavy defeat to France which put them in today’s third/fourth place playoff.

Griggs was asked who was in charge of running the women’s domestic rugby game in Ireland but was unable to provide an answer at the time.

“It would be people above me in the IRFU… I couldn’t tell you,” was his response to the inquiries. 

It was a worrying sign that the Ireland head coach didn’t have that information to hand and indicated problems around the infrastructure of the women’s unit in the IRFU.

On Thursday, Griggs moved to clarify his previous comments. At the start of a second press conference ahead of today’s game, Griggs corrected his remarks and identified Director of Rugby Development, Collie McEntee, and Women’s Development Manager, Amanda Greensmith as the people who run the women’s domestic game.

He acknowledged their efforts in this area and explained that “I probably wasn’t as clear as I could have been” when answering the question initially.

But that wasn’t the only incident that occurred this week. No players from the Ireland squad were put forward for media duty this week by the IRFU. Griggs was their sole representative.

adam-griggs Adam Griggs attending the Captain's Run ahead of today's game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

As referenced above, the women’s Six Nations is effectively a standalone competition this year in terms of coverage. They don’t have to plan fixtures around the men’s international fixtures, or jostle for space in newspapers.

That offers an unprecedented opportunity to expose the players, and the team, to more eye witnesses than what the Six Nations normally gets in its traditional slot.

But ahead of their final Six Nations outing, no players were selected to speak to the press. When asked about this during Thursday’s briefing with Griggs, an IRFU media officer said that this was their “media strategy” for this week.

a-general-view-of-energia-park-ahead-of-the-game Energia Park will host today's clash between Ireland and Italy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They also pointed out that Cliodhna Moloney appeared at a “sponsored gig in association with the IRFU” earlier in the week and that was “their player focus this week.” 

Griggs was asked directly for his opinion on that but didn’t respond.

Shortly after the conclusion of that press conference, the IRFU announced that team captain Ciara Griffin would be speaking to the media on Friday morning before the captain’s run.

Additionally, Ireland’s game today has quite an early kick-off time. Over two hours earlier than the start of last week’s game against France. 

It’s the first game of three on Six Nations finals day. The championship decider between England and France will take place at 2pm before the fifth/sixth place playoff between Scotland and Wales rounds off the day’s action at 5pm.

Ireland’s game was initially set to take place in Italy but was moved to Energia Park due to our Covid-19 quarantine rules here.

“Kick-offs were scheduled by Six Nations for the final weekend and the third/fourth place playoff was always supposed to the first game up, ” the IRFU media officer replied when asked about the reason for an early start time during Griffin’s press conference.

This writer can understand what the Six Nations is trying to achieve with the timings of the games, offering all fans from all competing nations a chance to see all the games.

The scheduling is in line with how they arrange the fixtures of the men’s games in the Six Nations. But the two competitions are not comparable in this regard.

The women’s game is still growing and evolving to create a fanbase. It would therefore, be preferable to put each game on in a primetime TV slot and expose it to a bigger audience.

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Even if that means Ireland’s game clashes with the other finals happening today. Give each nation a proper chance to grow the game internally and attract more fans to support their own country first. 

Then you can focus on bringing games featuring other countries to your audience.

And since this year’s Six Nations is a condensed championship, it means all of the finals are standalone fixtures. 

Perhaps it’s a bit late in the day to lay out this observation, and the IRFU doesn’t have too much wiggle room when the fixtures were pre-determined by the tournament organisers.

But it’s a possible consideration going forward.

All that being said, Ireland still have one more game to complete their Six Nations campaign, with a big imperative to bounce back from last week’s defeat and secure a third-place finish.

Hopefully, rugby will be back at the centre of the conversation this afternoon.

Starting Teams:

IRELAND: Eimear Considine; Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins, Sene Naoupu, Beibhinn Parsons; Stacey Flood, Kathryn Dane; Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Linda Djougang; Aoife McDermott, Nichola Fryday; Dorothy Wall, Brittany Hogan, Ciara Griffin.

ITALY: Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi; Manuela Furlan, Michela Sillari, Beatrice Rigoni, Maria Magatti; Veronica Madia, Sara Barratin; Erika Skofca, Melissa Bettoni, Lucia Gai, Valeria Fedrighi, Giodana Duca, Ilaria Arrighetti, Francesca Sgorbini, Elisa Giordano.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

 

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey look at the bigger picture for Irish women’s rugby, the disconnect between the amateur and pro games, and the anticlimactic ‘northern’ Rainbow Cup.

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