Monday 19 March 2018

Women's game in desperate need of review


Jenny Murphy tackles Caroline Ladagnous of France during Thursday’s Women’s Rugby World Cup clash. Photo: Getty Images
Jenny Murphy tackles Caroline Ladagnous of France during Thursday’s Women’s Rugby World Cup clash. Photo: Getty Images
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The Ireland women's team currently find themselves in a tricky position.

While most of them are still amateur players, the standards they have set means they will be judged in a high regard.

Ireland head coach Tom Tierney. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Tom Tierney. Photo: Sportsfile

If you consider that prior to the World Cup, they set their minimum requirement as reaching the semi-final, the tournament has to go down as a failure.

When the IRFU created three full-time, professional women's coaching positions for the first time in 2014, it was heralded as a huge step in the right direction.

With a home World Cup on the horizon, it made sense to put proper structures in place but it hasn't quite panned out the way many had hoped.

When Philip Doyle vacated his post three years ago after guiding Ireland to a first win over New Zealand en route to a World Cup semi-final, he left the house in good order.

Stalwarts like Fiona Coghlan and Lynne Cantwell retired soon after but the majority of the pack that started the defeat to France on Thursday were central to Ireland reaching that semi-final in 2014.

The foundations had been laid but somewhere along the line, someone took their eye off the ball, or rather redirected their focus elsewhere.

Setting up a full-time sevens programme was another landmark moment but the writing has long been on the wall about where the priority lies.

The decision to send three key players to a sevens tournament rather than play a crucial Six Nations game against France in February left a sour taste.

Ireland managed to beat France without the 'Las Vegas Three' but was everything as rosy as it seemed? Former international Fiona Steed has an interesting take:

"We don't have the depth in the player pool to play both (codes) at the moment," Steed told the Irish Independent.

"And that's where the crux is. They beat France and everybody was like, 'Oh well it's fine, it's justified. We went after a few other players.' In some ways, that papered over the cracks that exist."

To their credit, the IRFU have provided the resources. The women's team spent much of the build-up to the World Cup training in the union's high performance unit but yet, there was little evidence to suggest that any improvements have been made since the Six Nations.

Tom Tierney, whose contract expires at the end of the year, repeatedly told us this was the best-prepared Ireland team to head into a World Cup. His predecessor certainly didn't agree.

"What happened tonight cannot be blamed on any player they are told what to do "best prepared team EVER" Don't think so mate !!!" Doyle wrote on Twitter after France dumped Ireland out.

Ireland's basic skills were atrocious throughout the tournament. Their major strength is the set-piece and that was found out. The manner in which Japan demolished the Irish scrum was unforgivable. Even Australia, who admit to favouring sevens, had plenty of joy there.

"I think the whole situation needs to be looked at but will the IRFU look at it?" Steed wonders.

"Did they use everything that they had at their disposal? Greg Feek was up in the stands (against France). He's obviously a good scrummaging coach. After the implosion of the scrum in the first two matches; was someone like him brought in to look at it?"

Steed is still trying to get her head around why the players couldn't figure out a way to counteract Les Bleus' ploy of not engaging in the maul.

"Ireland have not improved," Steed insists. "We scraped wins in the Six Nations. We can't say that any of them were brilliant to watch. We haven't played well at all. The worrying thing for me is how did we regress in those few months?

"It was an improved performance (against France). Defensively their line speed was much better but tactically they were poor and naive.

"They didn't know what to do when France didn't engage in the maul. Those tactical situations should have been explored beforehand. It took them about five lineouts to try something different.

"All the talk between the Japan and France game was, 'Oh, we haven't shown anything yet. They will have to cope with us.' But we didn't see that, did we?"

"I would question two things. They had two warm-up games behind closed doors against Japan. While we had a chance to suss Japan out, they had a huge chance as well and almost sussed us out.

"They would have appeared to have learned more from those two warm-up games than we did.

"They then played Spain in a couple of training games. Meanwhile, New Zealand, England, Canada and Australia played each other on the other side of the world.

"We needed to have a game against the likes of France, England, New Zealand or Canada. We needed to have a game against those that were above us rather than those that were below us.

"They weren't even proper games. That's not preparation. Playing roll-on, roll-off subs and having 20-minute blocks when you are going out to host a World Cup in your back garden doesn't prepare you physically or mentally."

No one expects Ireland to be world-beaters but this group of players have not shown what they are capable of.

The powers that be must now determine if that was their fault or that of the coaches because if the current trend continues, Ireland will be left behind by the other top nations.

A review from top to bottom is imperative.

Irish Independent

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