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A miserable couple of days for Irish women's rugby off and on the pitch

Ireland must recover after defeat to Spain at the 2021 World Cup Qualifier tournament.

Ireland were second best against Spain yesterday.
Ireland were second best against Spain yesterday.
Image: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

ON SUNDAY, WE learned more about the “unacceptable error” that meant Connacht Women had to get ready in a derelict area alongside bins and with rats seemingly in very close proximity at Energia Park before their inter-provincial clash with Ulster.

Rather understandably, the reports about those “changing facilities” gained just as much attention as the actual rugby in the final round of the inter-pro championship.

That was a huge pity because the rugby on show was once again very entertaining as Munster claimed the title against Leinster after Connacht and Ulster had battled it out in an absorbing 12-12 draw.

What should have been the afterglow of an excellent inter-pro series – which was broadcast to great acclaim by TG4 – was left in tatters as footage of Connacht’s changing set-up was shared widely on social media, with the IRFU and Leinster Rugby’s apology on Sunday failing to stunt the anger and disgust.

Given the resulting downbeat mood around Irish women’s rugby, things could have done with a lift yesterday evening as all eyes turned towards the start of the national team’s 2021 World Cup Qualifier tournament in Italy.

Instead, Ireland suffered a shock 8-7 defeat to Spain, who aren’t a Six Nations team but perhaps proved their case for inclusion in the top-tier European competition in the very near future.

The Spanish effort was superb but this was a low point for Adam Griggs’ Ireland side, who had been favourites to start their campaign with a win before moving on to face hosts Italy and Scotland. Griggs admitted that his team simply hadn’t turned up.

All is not lost for Ireland. Even if they don’t win this round-robin competition to advance straight into next year’s delayed World Cup in New Zealand, a second-place finish would give them one last shot at qualifying through the final repechage tournament which will also involve Samoa, Colombia, and an Asian team. 

the-ireland-team-huddle-after-the-game Ireland take on Italy this Sunday. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

So there is still an obvious chance for Ireland to recover and avoid the frightening prospect of missing out on being at the World Cup next year.

Not being part of the flagship competition would be a huge setback for the women’s game in Ireland, as well as a failure to hit a headline IRFU target of finishing in the top six of this World Cup.

Italy – who are ranked one place ahead of Ireland in World Rugby’s official list at number seven – were impressive in their 38-13 win over Scotland yesterday and look certain to provide another severe test of the Irish quality this Sunday.

The following Saturday, Ireland will take on Scotland – who are 11th in the world rankings – with every single point sure to be crucial in that game. 

Back home that same Saturday, 25 September, the new Women’s All-Ireland League season is set to get underway.

The clubs are naturally disappointed that the clash in scheduling means their international players won’t be available but the hope is that the domestic season will bring improved quality as Ballincollig and Wicklow make their debuts in the league.

Episodes like Connacht’s changing set-up last weekend justifiably make many within Irish women’s rugby feel like some of the people in power don’t care about the game enough for it to make consistent progress that is about more than hashtags on social media.

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Indeed, the concern over the fiasco at Energia Park meant Irish captain Ciara Griffin, understandably dejected after the defeat to Spain, last night fielded questions about what had happened back home.

sene-naoupu Ireland were shocked by Spain in Italy. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

“We were here in Italy so I wasn’t there at the time,” said Griffin. “The IRFU released a statement that addresses it. It won’t be repeated again.”

The Ireland back row agreed that the footage was disappointing.

“Obviously it is disappointing because you put everything into the jersey to play for it. But the IRFU have put their hand up, you have to say that too, they haven’t hidden. They put their hand up and said they were wrong, said it wasn’t up to standard, it won’t happen again.

“It obviously wasn’t good enough it happened but it’s going to be rectified and won’t be repeated.”

Griffin and her team-mates in Italy will have their hands full in the coming days as they prepare for their chance to bounce back and while a victory on Sunday would be uplifting for Irish women’s rugby, it would seemingly only be papering over the cracks.

- originally published 6am, updated to appear on TheJournal.ie.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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