Thursday 19 September 2019

'They have a complete lack of interest in the women's game' - Former Ireland international takes aim at IRFU

Ruth O'Reilly, Ireland. Women's Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. Broadwood Stadium, Clyde FC, Glasgow, Scotland. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Ruth O'Reilly, Ireland. Women's Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. Broadwood Stadium, Clyde FC, Glasgow, Scotland. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Jack O'Toole

Former Ireland women’s international Ruth O’Reilly has taken aim at the IRFU for what she perceives as a ‘complete lack of interest’ in women’s rugby.

O’Reilly, who was capped 18 times by the women’s team between 2012 and 2017, has been an outspoken critic of the union over the last few months and said that IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora’s overview of Irish rugby last month was disparaging towards the women’s game.

“The whole #Legacy protest last weekend came about after the backlash last week over the Irish women’s head coaching job,” said O’Reilly.

“The captains of the AIL clubs felt that they needed to add their voices to that protest. It was to highlight that the grievances aren’t just at a national level, but what really is the problem here is a complete lack of strategy or interest on the part of the IRFU in the women’s game; right through from the green shirts down to the grassroots.

“There was a lot of disappointment from some of the clubs a couple of weeks ago when David Nucifora spoke about the league quite disparagingly and said that it was something that he didn’t feel was ‘fit for purpose’.

“I think all of us who are involved in that league would put our hands up and say that he could do so much more and that he could prepare our players more for international rugby.

“Unfortunately, the resources and the interest hasn’t been there from the IRFU to develop that.

“We all would have assumed that on the back of a home World Cup that there would have been more investment and more interest from our governing body into women’s grassroots rugby.

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“We feel it is quite hypocritical the manner in which the IRFU have said that they will put a huge amount of resources into the legacy element of their 2023 Rugby World Cup bid when they clearly haven’t bothered to do the same after their Women’s World Cup.”

In 2007, the first year the IRFU accounts recorded investment in women’s rugby, the union spent €127,222 on the women’s game in Ireland.

In 2017, the IRFU invested €2, 155, 495 into women’s representative teams with a further €10, 248, 298 spent on domestic and community rugby (across men’s, women’s and junior’s).

O’Reilly claims that the biggest improvement needed in the women’s game in Ireland is to have a better standard of coaching at the club and grassroots level, but that she’d also like to see a breakdown of the €2, 155, 495 the IRFU spent on the women’s game across 2016/17, as well as what areas the IRFU will invest in with the circa €2, 694, 368 the union have budgeted for women’s rugby next year.

“I’d like to see a breakdown of where all that money was spent,” added O’Reilly.

“My gut tells me that a whole pile of that wasn’t invested into the domestic game and I also feel a large portion of that would have been invested into the sevens game.

“In fairness, a lot of work has been put into the sevens game at underage level, which really is the right thing to do to develop that code of the game, but it’s strange to see that same investment isn’t mirrored in the 15’s code.

“I think it’s also worth comparing the figures they are claiming on the women’s game with some other aspects of the expenditure within the IRFU.

“They pay a lot of money to bring their past IRFU Presidents to all of their international games, regardless of where they are staged.” contacted the IRFU for clarification on these costs but have yet to receive a response.

However, in figures published in the IRFU Annual Report for 2016/17, the union spent €3, 361, 467 on national match costs last year, €2,758,686 on academies, €2, 527, 540 on the high performance unit, €2, 359, 039 on professional fees and €993, 567 on national tours, camps and squads.

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.

As part of that process, the IRFU intends to create a focused steering group co-chaired by Mary Quinn (IRFU Committee) and Su Carty to review the current strategy for the women's game and to make recommendations about the direction of future strategies for the development and growth of the game in Ireland.

In a statement on the Irish Rugby website, IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne wished to acknowledge the union's role in causing unintentional concern and confusion around the future of the women's game in Ireland.

"The IRFU is fully committed to developing and growing Women's rugby in Ireland and has already commenced a strategic review process involving volunteers and senior IRFU staff from both the high performance and grassroots participation areas of the game.

"Working in partnership with Rugby Players Ireland, players within the Women's rugby programme will be among the key groups consulted and they will help shape the future direction of the game in Ireland.

"The work carried out by the steering group, allied with the review of the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup, will contribute to building a framework for a long term strategic plan on the future of the Women's game in Ireland delivering into the next Women's Rugby World Cup cycle and beyond."

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