Bryan Keane/INPHO Emilie Boulard of France celebrates a try against Ireland.
# who's at the wheel
'We're in 2021 and it's not clear to me as a rugby person who's going to drive Irish women's rugby'
Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella gave their thoughts during a difficult week, and after a stop-start few years, for Irish women’s rugby.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 22nd 2021, 9:47 PM

THURSDAY BROUGHT ANOTHER stacked episode of The42 Rugby Weekly, wherein Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and host Gavan Casey followed up last week’s acclaimed special on recruitment in professional rugby with a deep-dive into the sport’s structures in Ireland, and where the professional sport is either failing or causing disenfranchisement among ‘the silent majority’ working at grassroots level.

Part of that conversation involved a look back on Ireland’s Guinness Women’s Six Nations defeat to France last weekend and, more pertinently, a look at the bigger picture for Irish women’s rugby as it enters what will prove to be a crucial stage in its development — or indeed lack thereof.

The conversation drifted towards head coach Adam Griggs’ apparent uncertainty when quizzed by the Irish Times’ Gavin Cummiskey at a press conference earlier this week as to who runs women’s domestic rugby in this country. Griggs’ answer at the time was, “I couldn’t tell you,” though he clarified his remarks at the very start of his press conference on Thursday — the pertinent quotes from which are included below.

Beginning his own assessment, Jackman began: “I don’t want to criticise them for losing to France because it’s not a level playing field — but it’s not the case that it’s not a level playing field because of professionalism; it’s not a level field because of grassroots rugby and the training age of the women we saw playing rugby on Saturday.

“The IRFU will deny this — whatever — but from what I can see, there’s been a massive focus on the sevens and hoping that sevens will do well in its own right but also obviously strengthen the [15s] depth chart. Now, the problem is, with sevens, because of the nature of the squad, you’re dealing with a much smaller group of athletes and it’s going to be hard to have enough athletes who can do both (sevens and 15s) well.

“You’re always going to be short, from what I can see, plus you’re not going to get front-five players through it. Plus, when you go for those cross-sport athletes, when they pick up sevens they’re generally 24 or 25, and then they’ve got to pick up 15s; you’re not going to get long careers out of them.

So, I just think it’s very short-sighted and if it was the right route to go down, then why wouldn’t they do the same for the men’s? Why wouldn’t they get the best Dublin GAA player, give him a contract to play sevens for two years and then he can join Connacht in three years’ time? The reason is that there’s enough people boys playing the game from a young age here that those athletes (from other sports), even if they’re more athletic, won’t catch up in terms of the rugby content.

“I’m against how we’ve really prioritised that so much (in women’s rugby),” Jackman continued.

“And the IRFU have put a lot of funding into this, they’ve hired a lot of people, but my concern is that we had a golden generation in 2013 who won a Grand Slam, who got to a semi-final of a World Cup — beat New Zealand, who had done it despite not having any support, and I felt that they weren’t used properly to harness that goodwill, energy, positivity that they created; to ensure that now, eight years later, we wouldn’t have that issue at grassroots.

“And it is better now than it was but I don’t think there’s been enough drive or creativity. We had a home World Cup in 2017 and let’s be honest… Again, people in the IRFU would probably argue with me that we did hit the numbers in terms of I don’t know what — social-media likes and things like that. But in terms of running a good competitions, getting people into stadiums, the team being well prepared, I feel — and again, it’s only my opinion — that we didn’t capitalise on it.

We’re in 2021 and it’s not clear to me as a rugby person, or fan, who’s going to drive Irish women’s rugby. It’s not going to drive itself — just as the men’s can’t drive itself. But it’s pretty clear to us, anything to do with performance for the men’s game — it’s David Nucifora. That’s who has to make sure it’s successful. For the women’s game, I feel it’s not really clear.

“South Africa have appointed Lynne Cantwell — it’s up to her to drive their strategy going forward. And it’s very clear.

“We haven’t really got that and yesterday, we saw the head coach of the women’s rugby team didn’t really know who was responsible for women’s domestic rugby. It’d be like Andy Farrell not knowing who’s coaching Connacht or not knowing which teams are in the Six Nations. That’s how basic that question was. Because if you’re the head coach of the Irish women’s team, you have to know what’s happening in the domestic game — because it’s not a professional team, the players in it come from the domestic game!

“It was an awful PR blow for the IRFU but it happened and you’d have to ask how it happened and how much focus are they actually putting on [communication within women's rugby].

If you have a professional head coach of the women’s team, it’s unacceptable, it’s mind-boggling that you would not know who’s responsible for domestic rugby in Ireland. In my opinion, if you’re not having at least quarterly meetings with that person, the job isn’t happening; whatever action plan they have is highly unlikely to be successful — because the guy who sees the best of the best on a very regular basis and is managing their performance, he should be able to help the head of domestic women’s rugby with feedback in terms of what’s working well, what’s not working well. And if you’re meeting that person, you know who he is, or who she is.

At the very beginning of his press conference on Thursday ahead of Ireland’s third-place play-off with Italy, Griggs claimed he had been “put on the spot” and didn’t want to attribute the running of the women’s domestic game to one person.

“On reflection”, Griggs said, “I probably wasn’t as clear as I could have been.”

“I think it’s important to acknowledge the work that [Director of Rugby Development] Collie McEntee and [Women's Development Manage] Amanda Greensmith and the domestic game do in running our pathway, and also our interprovincial series.

“Hopefully that clears up some of the comments that were made.

“I think I probably got put on the spot a little bit and I didn’t want to come across that we were putting it under any one person. I think, as I stated, it’s the whole organisation running this thing. Obviously, there’s different departments that will take care of different parts of the organisation.

“It was just something I thought, at the time, on the spot, I probably wasn’t as clear as I could have been.”

On Rugby Weekly, discussing Griggs’ apparent confusion earlier in the week, Jackman added:

“I feel sorry for the IRFU because I’m hammering them here, and they’ve actually invested a huge amount of money. You go into the IRFU website and see the amount of staff that are working in professional rugby in this country — there’s people for everything. We’ve got data analysts, we’ve got every single thing you would want — and yet we don’t seem to have a clear connection between women’s [national team] and the domestic game.

“Again, the IRFU will come out and say, ‘There is a connection!’ But yesterday should be the wake-up call that people in the IRFU need that it’s not clearly visible, this plan of action, and if it’s not visible, it’s highly unlikely to work. It’s not a money thing, it’s about getting the people at grassroots — at clubs, schools and universities — to take this vision and run with it themselves, and to be supported by the IRFU.

“Money is being used an excuse. It’s having one person responsible and then a lot of the work and the goodwill will be given on a volunteer basis.”

Murray Kinsella added: “The stuff with Adam Griggs was bizarre. It should be unbelievably clearly defined who’s directing it domestically because David Nucifora himself, and Anthony Eddy (director of women’s rugby) have both shot down the idea of professionalism in favour of sorting out that pipeline, in favour of, ‘Let’s grow the playing numbers’ before anything that’s what they call ‘a distraction’.

“So, for them to not actually know who’s running this priority in women’s rugby is absolutely damning, really. There’s no defending that and they can get pissed off with people in the media all they want, saying, ‘Oh, you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes,’ but that’s a very simple question that Gavin Cummiskey asked Adam Griggs in the presser and there was just no answer.”

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey look at the bigger picture for Irish women’s rugby, the disconnect between the amateur and pro games, and the anticlimactic ‘northern’ Rainbow Cup.

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