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IRFU expresses disappointment and 'refutes the overall tenor' of women's letter

The union views the letter as “outside interference” during the two ongoing reviews into women’s rugby.

Ireland players after missing out on World Cup qualification.
Ireland players after missing out on World Cup qualification.
Image: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

THE IRFU SAYS it “refutes the overall tenor” of a letter sent by 62 current and former Irish women’s rugby players to the government expressing their loss of all trust and confidence in the union.

An official statement from the IRFU in response to the letter – which can be read in full here – outlines the union’s disappointment that the group of players “should choose now to come out with a series of allegations” with two reviews currently ongoing in the women’s game.

The IRFU believes that the “outside interference” of the letter was not a “responsible approach” as the reviews continue.

As revealed earlier today, the hard-hitting letter from current and former players pointed to what they view to be longstanding “inequitable and untrustworthy leadership” within the IRFU as the group called on the Minister of State for Sport, Jack Chambers, and Minister for Sport, Catherine Martin, to intervene in the IRFU’s reviews in order to force greater transparency.

The IRFU had previously stated that neither of the reviews would be made public.

That last week’s letter from Irish players was signed by a large number of current Ireland internationals is very significant, as those players challenged the union they still aim to represent in Test rugby.

Many of Ireland’s best-ever former players were also involved in the letter, lending it further weight.

However, the IRFU has hit back in a statement of their own that rejects the content of the women’s letter and stresses that the union is “fully committed to the development of the women’s game.”

The IRFU’s statement reiterates that two separate reviews are ongoing in the women’s game at present and also highlights the growing numbers of young female players in rugby.

One of the current reviews is focused on what the IRFU termed as “the hugely disappointing failure of our women’s senior international team to qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021,” while the other is a broader structural review into Irish women’s rugby.

IRFU CEO Philip Browne has previously said that the full reviews would not be made public and that the union would instead continue its longstanding policy of releasing only “key findings” in media briefings.

It now remains to be seen how Ministers Chambers and Martin respond to the letter from the current and former Irish women’s players addressed to them.

The Department of Sport has not yet responded to The42‘s request for comment at the time of publishing.

general-view-of-the-irfu-crest The IRFU crest. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

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The IRFU’s statement in full reads as follows:

“The IRFU is aware of a letter sent to the Minister for Sport re. Irish Women’s Rugby and refutes the overall tenor of the document which questions the IRFU’s commitment to, and leadership of, the women’s game in Ireland.

“It is disappointing that this group should choose now to come out with a series of allegations, given all involved in Irish Rugby are fully aware that two well resourced, independent reviews are in train and it is from these reviews that lessons, based on fact, can be learned and the foundations built which will serve the women’s game well for future generations. 

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“The IRFU is fully committed to the development of the women’s game based on a sustainable structure, from grassroots up to international level. This is evident from the level of absolute commitment already in place by volunteers in clubs throughout the country, the IRFU rugby development team who are working tirelessly to bring the game to ever widening playing audiences and the committee who have sanctioned ever increasing budgets in support of the women’s game.

“The responsible approach would be to allow these reviews progress and conclude their work independently, without attempts to influence their work through outside interference.

“For the benefit of those who may not be aware and to balance, in some way, the opinions promoted in this recent letter it is important to reiterate that the IRFU has already publicly announced and set in train an independent review into, what was for all in Irish Rugby, players, team management, IRFU committee and executives, the hugely disappointing failure of our women’s senior international team to qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021.  This review is under the direction of an independent consultant, Amanda Bennett, former Welsh Rugby International and Founder of FairPlay, and will examine the preparation, participation, and performance of the Ireland Women’s XV during the recent RWC 2021 qualifying campaign. It is important that the integrity and independence of this review, which includes feedback from players, is not compromised in any way. The Union is already publicly committed to relying on the findings of that report as it plots future campaigns.

“Allied to this is the more far-reaching review, established several months ago following a recommendation from the IRFU’s Women’s Advisory Group. The review group is chaired by John Robinson, Senior Vice President IRFU and IRFU committee members Fiona Steed and Su Carty and will be looking in depth at the long-term interests of the women’s game, including the alignment between the Domestic Game and The High-Performance areas, player pathways and women’s competitive structures.

“All understand the importance of the international game in this matrix but of equal importance is the development of a structure for the long-term growth of the game at grassroots around club players and young girls coming into the game for the first time. An up-to-date summary of the exceptional work being done by the IRFU’s rugby development team in the promotion and coaching of the game highlights the work being undertaken by club volunteers for the 5,800 girls active across 68 U14 Girls teams, 64 U16 Girls teams and 56 U18 Girls teams, together with the 2,784 women playing across 81 adult women’s teams. In addition, it paints the pathway from mini rugby, and Aldi Play Rugby which is played by over 29,000 girls, to international level for girls entering the game.

“These are not seen as an end but rather strong foundations from which to build.

“Full details can be seen on https://www.irishrugby.ie/2021/11/20/nothinglikeit-signs-of-growth-in-rugby-for-women-and-girls/

- This piece was updated at 6.31pm to amend the World Cup year in the IRFU’s statement.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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