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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 21 April 2021

'We could end up with some element of a cross-border female league'

Railway Union will travel to London to take on Wasps Ladies in two weekends’ time.

RAILWAY UNION RFC will take on Wasps Ladies in London in a friendly on Saturday 6 April [KO 2pm], in what could be the beginning of more frequent cross-border club games in women’s rugby.

The fixture – a first between Irish and English clubs – will provide ideal All-Ireland League and Tyrell Premier 15s semi-final warm-ups for the two clubs a week out from their respective final-four ties.

Railway Union celebrate after the game Railway Union will travel to London on 6 April. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Former Railway Union and Ireland hooker Cliodhna Moloney is now playing her club rugby with Wasps, as is Ireland flanker Claire Molloy, ensuring the traveling AIL side will be greeted by familiar faces.

John Cronin, director of rugby at Railway Union, spent time visiting Wasps Ladies on a personal development trip to the UK last summer and was impressed by the English club’s director of rugby, Giselle Mather.

With the two clubs having identified a gap in their calendars the weekend before possible semi-finals and with the need to reintegrate players returning from the Six Nations, a date for this intriguing fixture was set.

“We’ve always wanted to play a cross-border fixture and it’s something we looked at last year but it just didn’t come off,” said Railway Union’s Cronin.

“It worked out this year. We said we’d go over to Wasps with a view to them coming over to us for a pre-season game next year.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we go against them.”

Indeed, it will be fascinating to learn how Railway Union fare against their English opponents – who include recent Grand Slam winner Amy Cokayne, as well as 2014 World Cup winners Danielle Waterman and Rochelle Clark.

The Dublin club have been consistently among the strongest in the AIL and have produced internationals like Ireland players Aoife McDermott, Lindsay Peat and Stacey Flood.

Railway Union celebrate after the game Railway Union won the All-Ireland Cup last year. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Ireland’s 36-player squad named before this year’s Six Nations included Railway’s Peat, McDermott, Juliet Short, Ailsa Hughes, Eve Higgins and Claire Keohane.

With club sponsors such as Cardinal Capital providing strong support, Railway will travel to and from London on 6 April, with the game taking place at Wasps’ Twyford Avenue Sports Ground in Acton.

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The hope is that cross-border fixtures of this kind become a more regular part of the Irish women’s rugby calendar.

“I think more of these need to happen between the clubs,” said Cronin. “There was talk a number of years ago of the winners of the Premiership playing the winners of the AIL in a game and that didn’t happen. We’ve taken it on ourselves to get those games.

“I know a couple of cross-border games have happened between French and English teams. We need to keep pace with where the UK is. If we don’t improve the AIL and the Premiership keeps improving, we’ll lose our best players there.”

Indeed, with England now having professionally contracted their players – helping them to complete a convincing Grand Slam this year – Cronin is hopeful that next month’s game is a sign of things to come with a European competition for women’s rugby.

“The rugby world is changing and I think we could end up with some element of a cross-border female league,” said Cronin.

Linsey Peat and Sena Naoupu Railway's Lindsay Peat on the charge. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“England have contracted their players and the other unions, in time, are going to have to follow. The unions can’t send out amateurs to play against professionals in international rugby.

“If you imagine how good they could be in two years’ time, the gap is going to get too big. You have to keep pace.

“I think there’s a big appetite out there with broadcasters for female sport. If you invest into the women’s game, the product will be much better and people will be attracted to it. 

“The question will be how you get revenue out of women’s rugby and the revenue will have to come from a competition that sponsors and TV will get behind. That will have to be some kind of European competition, I would think.

“What’s the alternative? We do nothing?”

- This article was updated at 12.33pm to correct ‘Tierney’ to ‘Cronin’.

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Murray Kinsella

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