Former Ireland centre Grace Davitt calls for transparency in IRFU’s review of World Cup qualifying disaster

Former Ireland international Grace Davitt during the Women’s Six Nations in 2014. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Former Ireland centre Grace Davitt believes the IRFU must be fully transparent when it comes to reviewing the national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in New Zealand next year.

The union say they will commission a review “in line with the men’s 2019 Rugby World Cup and all other national team campaigns”, with a “mix of external consultants and internal stakeholders tasked with providing a detailed report to the IRFU high performance unit”.

The details of the 2019 men’s Rugby World Cup review were not made public, with performance director David Nucifora discussing his interpretations of the findings at a press conference.

Davitt, who was part of the team that beat New Zealand and reached the 2014 World Cup finals, believes the review should be wide-ranging and public as Ireland looks to learn the lessons of the disastrous performances in Parma.

And, she believes a large focus should be put on the balance between the sevens and XVs programmes.

“Why not have transparency? Why not say ‘this is where it went wrong’?,” she asked. “Tell us where they think it went wrong. At the minute, we don’t know where they stand in terms of their priorities, they tell us XVs is a high priority but their words don’t match their actions.

“The action plan isn’t public, so we don’t know how they’ve planned to hit the targets of qualifying for the World Cup.

“Why not have a transparent process, saying, ‘this is where we went wrong. We’re going to talk to people within the game’.

“It has to come from grassroots rugby; they might say that coaching in the All Ireland League isn’t good enough, what we’re going to do is to continue with the Ireland camps but include bi-monthly skills sessions for these coaches.

“I think they’re afraid to put it down on paper, because you’ll see there’s no pathway for the XVs game in the action plan.

“You’ll see that most players are coming through the sevens pathway from underage, you wonder where the pathway is for XVs players.

“They’re promoting the AIL, girls putting their bodies on the line week in, week out to maybe get a chance to be seen by Ireland.

“They play interprovincial, but the interprovincial this year – yes, because of Covid – had no bearing on international selection whatsoever, it looks like it’s not even a feeder.”

Davitt believes a combination of having no warm-up matches and the lack of XVs experience in some backline players including out-half Stacey Flood and Lucy Mulhall who came in cold to start at outside centre against Spain cost Ireland dear as they lost to Spain and Scotland and missed out on their World Cup place.

“It is up to the players, but they had to be prepared,” she said.

“To not have any friendlies or games before the tournament, not letting the players play in the interpros or move (the interpros) earlier, get a combined team from the best of the interpros to play Ireland or something of that ilk.

“So, the lack of game-time – you can’t say you prepared the team as best you can for the tournament.

“You’re putting girls under huge pressure. Lucy Mulhall is an amazing sevens captain, great skills. No 13 Lynne Cantwell maybe made it look easy but it’s a very difficult position.

“Lucy Mulhall is down as a Rathdrum player, they’re not an All Ireland League club. They were at a low level back when she was there. She hasn’t played XVs rugby since she became a sevens player.

“Where are these girls getting the experience of playing XVs rugby? It’s a different game.”

Ultimately, Davitt is saddened that the progress she was part of has been allowed to slip away. She played in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups as Ireland went from eighth to fourth and can’t countenance there not being a team from Ireland in New Zealand next year.

“To not make a World Cup, to be fourth in 2014 and the hosts in 2017 and not make the next one is just unbelievable. Those two things in a three-year period should have driven rugby forward,” she said.

“In 2015 we won the Six Nations and in 2019 we’d our worst result, finishing fifth.

“Fair enough, it picked up again. Every country was affected by Covid, if they want to use that as an excuse, but to see it going so badly wrong and so low, I feel heartbroken for the girls.

“I’ve no doubt they’re putting everything asked of them into it to the best of their ability, but I’d like to know what they’re being asked to do, what tools are they being given to help them. How can they learn?

“Yes, it’s them on the pitch but there has to be more to it.”