Saturday 15 December 2018

'If we cut time together we'll fall further behind' - Egan

Former prop Ailis Egan fears other countries are moving ahead of Ireland when it comes to preparation due to the resources being put at their disposal. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Former prop Ailis Egan fears other countries are moving ahead of Ireland when it comes to preparation due to the resources being put at their disposal. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Last weekend, the women's game came together in solidarity as players around the country donned '#legacy' wrist-bands in an attempt to voice frustrations deeply embedded in the game.

Over the past few years, the senior women's team have put women's rugby on the map thanks to their Six Nations success and a fourth-placed finish at the 2014 World Cup.

Last summer's home World Cup was seen as the perfect opportunity to consolidate the progress and leave a lasting legacy, but former international Ailis Egan, who retired after the tournament, says she went into the World Cup with the fear that a failure to perform might undermine everything they achieved.

Finishing eighth was a devastating result for the players and when the position of head coach was advertised as a part-time, six-month role last week it appeared her fears had been realised.

"One of my biggest fears going into the World Cup was, 'if we don't perform will we get the backing going forward?'" Egan said. "That shouldn't be a fear, investment in resources and time and whatever shouldn't be on the back of performance.

"We've reached a place now where the game is in good stead, we put in the performances that mean the girls deserve sustained investment over a long period of time rather than just performance-based investment.

Badly

"You could argue that if it's been taken away, is that just because we did badly in the World Cup? Is that the case if we do badly in the Six Nations, then do you go, 'It's not worth the time being put in'. It shouldn't be that.

"That's what the legacy campaign is about, making sure we're not pushed into a corner and forgotten about and that they come up with a long-term strategy to get us back up into the top four or top five in the world.

"You start with the grassroots and it trickles up."

Last night, the IRFU announced the launch of a steering group for the women's game and pledged to involve the players who have linked up with Rugby Players Ireland.

Now that the union have begun to review the structures around the women's game, what should they focus on?

Although she was speaking before the review was announced, Egan pointed to the lack of underage pathways for girls who hope to one day become senior internationals. Ireland does not have an U-20 team, unlike rivals.

The international schedule is another big issue. Currently, Ireland's only fixtures are the Six Nations games whereas England will play Canada three times in November while other nations like Wales are meeting regularly to build on their World Cup performances. "That's what doesn't really make sense," Egan said.

"You look at Scotland in the last few years and they have completely redesigned their whole structures and pathways.

"They've been the wooden-spoon team of the last few years in the Six Nations, but you can see that changing last year as they put in some good performances. They're a team to watch.

"England, traditionally, have way more money than any other union but they're pumping money into their grassroots level, their Premiership teams have full-time coaches, full-time physios, everything that the national set-up doesn't have at national level, they have it at club level.

"France have now gone professional, their club teams have huge backing.

"We're miles behind in some regards, the girls at the moment don't have strength and conditioning (support), whereas all of the other teams have been back in training camps, they have autumn internationals.

"They're all a few steps ahead in terms of preparation for the Six Nations.

"You could argue that the programme at the moment, as it stands, only warrants having a part-time coach because we have five games a year.

"Other countries have summer tours, autumn internationals, Six Nations. That's what the English calendar looks like and warrants having a full-time coach.

"That's where we need to go. The other nations have a full-year programme and we'll fall further and further behind.

"With a full-time coach we were able to do skill sessions during the week, that's going to be curtailed now until weekends. That's just a small part.

"Yes, we need more games, but we need more time together and if they cut that then we're just going to fall further and further behind.

"It's just natural, Wales get together on a weekly basis. Yes, it's a small country and they can do that, but that's what we're fighting against.

"England were full-time before the World Cup, you just can't compete (with that).

"It showed you won't be able to compete at that level - maybe we will this year, maybe we will next year but in five years' time we'll struggle and that's what everybody in the game is looking at - we're not looking at the short-term."

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