Friday 19 July 2019

No plan for women's team to go pro as sevens stay central to international ambitions

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora. Photo: Sportsfile
IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

The IRFU has no plans to follow the English and New Zealand unions in professionalising their senior women's team.

Instead, performance director David Nucifora said the union's focus is on growing the game from the grass-roots level and they have put in place ambitious plans to increase female player numbers, coaches, referees and committee participants.

The IRFU have come in for criticism for their handling of the women's game after a series of missteps, including advertising the head coach's role as part-time and temporary, and the 'Women in Rugby Action Plan' launched this morning is unlikely to satisfy some of those critics who want a fully professional set-up for the women's XVs team.

The English RFU have reintroduced a central contract system for 28 members of their senior side, while France, Australia and New Zealand fund full-time players.

A number of players are contracted to Ireland's sevens programme and the XVs team will continue to share resources with the abbreviated format which remains front and centre of the union's women's strategy.

The strategic plan states that the sevens team is expected to reach the Tokyo Olympics, while it also sets the XVs team the target of winning a Six Nations between now and 2023 as well as regularly securing a top-three finish.

Nucifora committed to Ireland continuing to play senior internationals in November. They take on the United States and England next month.

The union also want to improve the Women's All Ireland League by establishing clear participation criteria which would be linked to funding, improving coaching and developing an AIL summer sevens series.

They will also look to better align the club and provincial game at all levels.

The report's focus is on growing the player base and the union's target is to grow the number of adults playing the game by more than 372pc in five years.

They want to grow the number of children playing the game by 260pc and part of that plan includes increasing the number of teams for women and girls by 56pc.

Coaches are also part of plan, with the union hoping to increase the number of female coaches by 250pc.

They hope to attract players playing other sports through their talent identification programme, while they will use the successful Aldi 'Play Rugby' scheme and the improvised 'XSevens' format to attract new players.

Still, the targets look very ambitious, as is the goal of increasing female representation on rugby committees and in management roles from 2pc to 20pc.

Whether the plan satisfies those who heavily criticised the union for its management of the women's game remains to be seen.

Nucifora defended the concept that the sevens and XVs game are interchangeable which has come under fire in some quarters.

"It (Sevens) is an access point to the game, we needed to give people an easy access point into the game," he said.

"One of the beauties of rugby is its complexity. That can also be one of our challenges in that it is a complex game for people to play and learn.

"To be able to bring young players into the game with something that is a lot more uncluttered, a lot simpler to learn but has all the basic components of the game - what you need to be able to do to be able to play XVs rugby.

"So it's an obvious access point for the people who haven't played the game before.

"So, when you're presented with tools like that, if you don't utilise them properly that would be poor business."

Irish Independent

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