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Sinead Kissane: Being 'well-enough' prepared is not good enough for Irish women

A disappointed Alison Miller and Ailis Egan after Ireland’s defeat to Australia in their play-off game at this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
A disappointed Alison Miller and Ailis Egan after Ireland’s defeat to Australia in their play-off game at this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

The day after the final bid presentations were made for the 2023 Rugby World Cup last Monday, IRFU performance director David Nucifora gave an overview of Irish rugby at a media briefing at the Aviva Stadium. It's now 35 days since Ireland finished eighth at the Women's Rugby World Cup and it's also just over four months until the start of the 2018 Women's Six Nations.

Tom Tierney's time in charge of Ireland ended after the World Cup. So what's the latest on a new head coach for the women's team?

"We're still conducting a review of the programme but we will advertise at some point soon for a new head coach to take that group forward. So, there's no real rush on that. But we'll have someone in place, probably, in the coming months," Nucifora said. "They'll be well-enough prepared coming into the Six Nations".

In an interview with Irish Rugby TV a few weeks before the WRWC, Nucifora struck a more confident note when he spoke about the advancements made through increased funding and facilities.

"This Irish women's 15s team will be the best-prepared team to enter a Women's Rugby World Cup, I've no doubt about that."

In the space of just two months, the rhetoric has shifted from "best-prepared" to "well-enough prepared" for our national women's team.

When I put it to Nucifora on Tuesday that it turned out Ireland weren't "best-prepared", he disagreed, answering: "No, I think they were really well prepared. I think what's factual is that the team didn't perform as well as everyone would have hoped".

He's right, the team didn't perform as well as everyone would have hoped. There is an internal review going on in the IRFU but the results and recommendations will not be published.

'Accountability' is one of the words painted on the walls of the women's base in Lansdowne. Obviously, every player is accountable for their own performance but the responsibility lies with the men who are in charge of them.

Ireland's display at the WRWC simply did not match the proclamation of them being the "best-prepared" team.

Going off an interview now-retired Ireland player Ruth O'Reilly's did, how exactly were the players meant to perform when:

"Tom (Tierney) is not big on set-piece work so line-out and scrums got minimal attention", when they "weren't getting decent feedback in terms of how we could improve our performance" and when, apparently on review from the IRFU, O'Reilly said players were asked to put together playbooks on opposition teams. Isn't this the responsibility of the head coach?

Separately, a few of the players also asked a player from the Ireland men's team for help on set-piece plays before the tournament. With all of this going on in the background, why this team was publicly described as the "best-prepared" doesn't stack up.

Do you think Joe Schmidt would view O'Reilly's claims about preparation as "best-prepared"?

The way Schmidt operates should set a standard of best practice every head coach of an Irish national team should aspire to. But was this the case when it came to basics like set-piece and skills training from the then full-time women's head coach Tom Tierney and Anthony Eddy, director of sevens and women's rugby at the IRFU?

Nucifora said this week that he plans on developing the women's game from the bottom up. There are currently around 280 players in the women's AIL.

"We need to get some sustainability into the club game, improve the coaching," Nucifora added.

"If we can do that then we can start to worry about what happens at the top. You've actually got to have something that's sustainable and our focus needs to be at the bottom."

The broader picture is the future of the women's 15s and/or/versus the future of sevens. Considering the limited player pool, can the IRFU reasonably sustain both? There are some views that the global women's game may increasingly veer towards sevens.

Will the Ireland sevens get even more priority over the 15s in the near future seeing as the next WRWC is four years away?

It happened in a World Cup year when Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller and Hannah Tyrrell were pulled from a Six Nations game for sevens duty. (An effort to get questions answered from Eddy over the past few days proved fruitless as he is currently in Australia.)

There were plenty of promises given up by all bidders at the press conferences for the final presentations for the 2023 RWC earlier this week.

Footprint

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said, "it's about what we can do to increase the footprint of rugby in North America".

Like 'céad míle fáilte' and claims of "best-prepared" we can enjoy a weakness here of over-egging reality.

There was plenty of talk about legacy and trying to increase the rugby footprint here before the WRWC.

But what is legacy if the present team isn't as well prepared as it should be. Nucifora says he wants to build the women's game from the bottom up but it shouldn't come at the expense of the top down. The shop window remains Ireland performing to their potential in days like the Women's Six Nations.

Everyone is prone to a slip of the tongue. But being "well-enough" prepared is simply not good enough for our national women's team.

Irish Independent

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