Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: -3°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO The report was launched on Thursday
# Women's Rugby
IRFU's report proposes women's AIL restructure as extra €1 million funding announced
The IRFU has revealed its Women In Rugby Report, which outlines several proposals to improve structures.

ON THE EVE of the competition’s grand final between Blackrock College and Railway Union, former Ireland international Fiona Steed acknowledged there is a significant mood for change in how the Women’s All-Ireland League is structured.

Following an extensive process that saw 77 stakeholders across the various strands of the game being interviewed by Amanda Bennett of Fair Play Limited, the IRFU finally published their Women In Rugby Report earlier today. This report arose from the findings of an independent review of Women In Rugby in Ireland and has proposed a number of recommendations that can be incorporated into the IRFU’s new 2023-2028 Strategic Plan.

One of the four themes contained within the report centres on ‘Creating Optimum Competition Structures’, with fewer than two out of three survey respondents believing the Women’s AIL is a high quality competition that helps prepare players for international rugby. Concern was also raised about the migration of players to Dublin in order to line out for the league’s most dominant clubs.

fiona-steed Ryan Byrne / INPHO Steed at today's launch. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Currently operating as one league with nine teams, it has been recommended that – from 2023/24 onwards – the Women’s AIL is expanded to 12 teams in two divisions of six each, with promotion and relegation factored into the equation.

“This was an area that was really explored in-depth both in the surveys and questionnaires, and one-to-one meetings. The biggest thing that came out of it is that the majority of people who participated in the survey found the current Women’s AIL isn’t fit for purpose, and it’s something the steering group agreed with,” Steed, the Chair of the IRFU Women’s Sub-Committee, explained at a media conference in the Aviva Stadium to mark the report’s publication.

“This was based on a lot of the differences in the scorelines, which is not unique to the Women’s AIL. One of the key recommendations was that we would look at that and see what best fits our game in Ireland. What we can do to make it fit for purpose for everybody. The primary recommendation is that we split it into a six and a six, so you have a Premiership and Championship in effect.

“This will allow for greater competitiveness, in effect, between the teams in each division. There will still be promotion and relegation, and overall it’s building on that there is a place for every adult to play. There needs to be a system that everybody gets to play at the level that’s appropriate for them, and they aspire to.”

Elsewhere in the report, widening the talent pool, enabling greater inclusivity and aligning the domestic game with high performance pathways were also explored in great detail.

irish-rugby-football-union-women-in-rugby-review Ryan Byrne / INPHO IRFU President John Robinson with women’s development manager Amanda Greensmith, head of women's performance and pathways Gillian McDarby, committee member Fiona Steed and world rugby council member Su Carty. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The latter theme falls within the remit of Gillian McDarby, who was appointed by the IRFU to the newly-created position of Head of Women’s Performance & Pathways in August of this year. Sitting alongside Steed as part of a top-table briefing – John Robinson (IRFU President and Chair of the Women in Rugby Report) and Amanda Greensmith (IRFU Women’s Development Manager) were also there – McDarby outlined how establishing regional centres of excellence will form a major part of their future plans for women’s rugby in Ireland.

“It’s been identified that we need to design new pathways, in partnership with domestic rugby and the provinces. What this will allow us to do is identify players from the age of 16 right up to senior. Provide them with support structures to be able to represent Ireland internationally,” McDarby remarked.

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“We’re looking at setting up regional centres of excellence around the provinces. Resourcing those with a technical coach and an athletic performance coach. They’ll be responsible for coordinating programmes, providing support structures within those centres. What that will do is ensure sustainability, so you have players you can constantly feed into the national teams.”

As is mentioned consistently throughout the report, all the suggested recommendations will be subject to full costing and funding availability. However, the IRFU did reveal that a further €1 million of annual funding will be committed to commence the implementation of the Women In Rugby Report.

Additionally, the annual budget allocated directly to women’s rugby increased this year to €5.5 million and the association’s Chief Executive Kevin Potts revealed they will also be looking to external sources for financial aid.

“We would be going to the government and Sport Ireland to help in the medium term, if there is any assistance we can get in terms of participation and of course sponsorship will also be helpful,” Potts said.

“What I will also say, the women’s game is clearly a strategic priority for us. So we will work really hard to ensure we deliver that and we would be hopeful of external sources of finances.”

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