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Another blow for Irish women’s rugby as XVs programme manager Gemma Crowley quits after six months

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Ireland's Niamh Briggs is consoled by team manager Gemma Crowley after the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final against England, Stade Jean Bouin, Paris, France. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Niamh Briggs is consoled by team manager Gemma Crowley after the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final against England, Stade Jean Bouin, Paris, France. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora. Image: Sportsfile.

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora. Image: Sportsfile.

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Ireland's Niamh Briggs is consoled by team manager Gemma Crowley after the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final against England, Stade Jean Bouin, Paris, France. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Ireland’s women’s rugby programme has been hit with a blow with the news that key staff member Gemma Crowley has decided to quit as Women’s XVs National Teams Programme Manager after six months in the role.

The experienced Crowley was manager of the team that won the Grand Slam in 2012 and reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2014, beating New Zealand. She subsequently worked for the Lions on the 2017 and 2021 tours before returning to the IRFU in March.

The IRFU confirmed that Crowley will leave the role and does so with the union’s best wishes.

It is understood that the decision to centralise the XVs programme at the union’s High Performance Centre at Abbotstown in north Dublin was a contributing factor to the Cork-based official’s decision.

The IRFU will advertise for the key support role in the coming days.

Crowley’s appointment was seen as a key development in the IRFU restoring credibility within the XVs game after the damaging fallout from the senior international side missing out on the tournament in New Zealand.

That hammer-blow plunged the game into crisis, with the fallout leading to the departure of the director of women’s and sevens rugby Anthony Eddy, two major reviews of the women’s game and ultimately to a large number of current and former internationals writing to the government to say they had lost trust in the union’s capacity to run the women’s game.

In the subsequent months, the union has worked to restore that faith, conducting two separate reviews into the game and recently launched a professional programme that will be situated at the High Performance Centre.

However, a number of leading players including captain Nichola Fryday and players of the year Sam Monaghan and Neve Jones have opted to remain in England rather than join the programme.

Concerns over competition structures in Ireland are central to the relatively low take-up, while there has also been criticism of the low rate of pay.

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The IRFU plan on entering one team in a Celtic Cup competition against Welsh and Scottish opposition in the New Year, but leading figures in the club game fear that hot-housing all the best talent in one location and removing them from the AIL will further damage the game.

The union plan on releasing the findings of the second review in the coming weeks along with a strategic plan.


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