Saturday 21 April 2018

Our core problems run deeper than just this team

A dejected Sene Naoupu and Larissa Muldoon after Saturday’s defeat to Wales. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
A dejected Sene Naoupu and Larissa Muldoon after Saturday’s defeat to Wales. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

The problems in Irish women's rugby are about much more than how this Ireland team did at the World Cup. And they need to be addressed in a serious and transparent manner if we are to see the sport reach its potential. It can't just be about the national team now. 

The skill levels of players coming in to the international team isn't what it should be, but if we just focus on that we'll still be in the exact same situation in four years.

When I played with UL Bohs it wasn't a step up to go and play with Leinster - I've been saying this about the inter-pros for years. In theory it should be a step up, but it's not. The provincial competition just isn't bridging a gap.

The women's All-Ireland League changed to a home-and-away format this year, which did provide more high-quality games.

However, there is a big gap from the top teams to the rest and there are no Irish underage teams of any kind. 

There are more girls playing now, but the pool in Ireland is still very small and the big issue is how we improve basic skill-sets.

For me, we need to improve lots of things, including the quality of coaching at every level.

I've heard people say we need to get more 'athletes' into rugby, but look at New Zealand's winning team.

They're not an athletic team, like the USA, but can all play ball and make the right decisions at the right time. Those are the kinds of players we should be trying to create.

I said during the Six Nations that Ireland's style was very one-dimensional and it didn't change. Ireland did look to be a bit more creative against Australia, but the same trends - unforced errors and poor line-speed - were still there.

Tom Tierney said his tenure as coach was a "successful three years", but that depends on your definition of success.

Yes, more players have been capped, but based on World Cup performances, I'd question the standard that they reached and the way they are playing. Is that lack of talent down to the size of the player pool or coaching? Some of these hard questions need to be asked.  

Players have to take some responsibility for unforced errors and a lack of basic skills, but I have played with a number of the current squad and I know there is real quality in this team. When players don't deliver what you know they are capable of, you have to ask why.

Their confidence appeared to be low from the start of the tournament. I'm a big believer in culture and standards within a squad (including management) and these appeared to be lacking.

Ruth O'Reilly came out at the weekend and highlighted some issues in the camp which were affecting players and performances.

I thought the timing of her comments - on the biggest day of the tournament - was wrong. This was not the time to bring these issues to light. It should either have been tackled when they originated or left until after the tournament.   

On a positive note, I was delighted that the final was such a magnificent match. 

It should be noted that New Zealand are not as well funded as the Irish women's team, yet still managed to reach that level of performance. Yes, it is their national sport, but they are also developing players through good coaching and culture.

The crowd in Kingspan was fantastic and this tournament got record TV figures globally, showing there's a real appetite for the game. It was also superbly organised by the IRFU staff and so many fantastic volunteers, who made this the best organised Women's World Cup ever.

However, the IRFU needs to look at the overall structures now, decide where they want it to go in sevens or 15s and be transparent about it.

It's time to have a strong vision, state it and do what needs to be done from club up to international level to achieve it.

Money is obviously required to develop the game, but it shouldn't be a barrier. We might need to look at more 'outside the box' methods and be more innovative. 

This is still a young sport, everything takes time and I appreciate that, but this World Cup has clearly shown we have fallen significantly behind the top four.

If the IRFU doesn't produce a clear vision and push on now we are going to get left even further behind.

Irish Independent

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