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IRFU says dates on offer in Australia 'didn't fit with the women's plan'

The union turned down an invitation of a three-Test tour Down Under this month.

Murray Kinsella reports from Sydney

JOE SCHMIDT’S IRELAND team are currently preparing for their winner-takes-all final Test against the Wallabies on Saturday, but it might have been that Ireland Women were in a similar position in Sydney.

The IRFU turned down an invitation from Rugby Australia to host Ireland Women in a three-Test series against the Wallaroos this month, with the intention being that the fixtures would have made up double-headers with the men’s games.

Sene Naoupu celebrates her try with teammates Ireland Women could have been in Australia this month. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

After a report in the Irish Times two weeks ago revealed the IRFU’s decision to decline the invitation, which included Rugby Australia covering Ireland’s accommodation, the union was widely criticised.

News of the IRFU’s decision to turn down the opportunity for Ireland Women to play in Australia was the latest episode around women’s rugby that has drawn public ire.

Ireland had a dire home World Cup campaign last year, finishing eighth when there had been an expectation they could compete for the trophy.

Head coach Tom Tierney left his role in the wake of the tournament before the IRFU advertised the position as a “part-time casual” job on an initial six-month contract.

Following what has been a rather turbulent time for women’s rugby in Ireland, IRFU performance director David Nucifora finally addressed the issue yesterday in Sydney, having joined the men’s team on their tour of Australia.

Nucifora confirmed that the “broad review of women’s rugby” that has been led by Mary Quinn and Su Carty since the World Cup failure will result in the release of the IRFU’s new strategy in September.

“We’ve got a strategy that’s being finalised and that will see Ireland look to grow the game to enable us to remain competitive at international level,” said Nucifora.

“A lot of it revolves around the high-performance department, working closely with Scott Walker and the domestic rugby area.

“We’ve got to make sure that we ensure better pathways, better competitions, better coaching standards are in place to create a far bigger talent pool to drive competition for places at the elite level. It’s not different from the men’s game to get success.

“Unless we’ve got depth and unless we’ve got competition – unless we can create that, we’ll struggle to be sustainable. So there’s a lot of effort and investment that will go into the game at a lower level to make sure that we can create those numbers.”

David Nucifora Nucifora is in Australia with the men's team. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Nucifora insisted that the IRFU see women’s rugby in Ireland as “one big women’s programme” that encompasses both sevens and 15s rugby, rather than viewing them as totally separate entities.

And in addressing the reasoning behind the IRFU’s decision to turn down the invitation of a three-Test tour for the 15s team in Australia, Nucifora pointed to the Ireland Women’s Sevens team schedule.

The Sevens team took part in the final leg of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Paris two weekends ago, while they are currently preparing for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco on 20 to 22 July.

“There was some recent speculation that didn’t really accurately represent the invitation that was received,” said Nucifora.

“The dates on offer didn’t fit with the women’s plan. We need to be very considerate with our current playing resources and the best use of our financial resources. We need to grow the whole women’s game

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“At the moment, our staff and players are just finishing preparing for the World Series and the World Cup and we wouldn’t have a full list of players available if we were coming down here, even before we look at the financial cost of sending a team down here.

“The invitation was given to suit the Australian programme more than the Irish programme.

“The Australian girls are playing the New Zealand girls next month and they are looking for some opposition because there is not much opposition for women’s rugby down here in the Southern Hemisphere, and they thought it would be a good idea [for Ireland] to tag along with the men’s tour.

“It’s obviously a lot more complicated than that, there’s a lot more things involved to make sure it suits our requirements and not just the Australian requirements.

“Our focus at the elite end of the game is on playing two Test matches in November this year, we didn’t play any last year, so rather than coming down here our focus is on giving the girls two matches – one has been announced [against the US], the other will be shortly.

Katie Fitzhenry dejected Ireland Women had a dire World Cup campaign last year. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“They’ll play two internationals in November and that’s a far better preparation for us leading into the Six Nations; it suits our requirements much better than a team that wouldn’t be at full strength coming down here.”

Current Ireland international Sene Naoupu, who players sevens and 15s rugby, was among those to express her public disappointment at the IRFU’s decision when it came to light two weeks ago.

Naoupu tweeted that she was “sick of staying quiet about missed ops for shared learning,”  with Ireland 15s centre Jenny Murphy offering her support to Naoupu in stating that it “takes a lot of courage to do this.”

Ireland 15s hooker Leah Lyons labelled the decision “frustrating, disappointing, annoyed” on her Twitter page, while a host of ex-Ireland internationals criticised the decision.

“I’m not surprised but I think unless you have all the facts, it’s like people who comment on anything without all the facts, it was probably sensationalised a little bit,” said Nucifora when asked if he was surprised to see current internationals speaking out.

“We’ve got a plan. Do we accept invitations… we have a lot of invitations that come in for a lot of our teams to do different things and we have to have a look at the invitation and see if they fit strategically into what we’ve got planned – this one didn’t.”

The fact that Ireland’s players found out about the declined invitation through the media struck many commentators as being wrong, but Nucifora insisted that this was the common procedure.

“There’s a lot of things like that that the players don’t know, things like invitations come for any of our other underage teams or our 7s teams.

“We don’t consult with the players around ‘would you like to go on a tour to Australia or would you like to go and tour somewhere else?’” continued the IRFU boss.

“That’s not the way we do our business. We have a plan, we have a strategy, and if it fits, we’ll look at it.

“If it doesn’t fit, we’ll choose to do what does fit and what’s best for us, not what’s best for Australia or anyone else.”

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