How To Bugger Up Women’s Rugby

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From left: Clare McLaughlin, Niamh Briggs, Ireland Women’s head coach Tom Tierney, Nora Stapleton and Alison Miller at the Pool Draw for the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 in Belfast City Hall last November

Too many caps.

Not enough integration.

An open letter by frustrated supporters of the women’s game.

To whomever cares,

When we were returning to Ireland after the women’s Rugby World Cup in France in 2014, we were exhausted but so excited about the future of women’s rugby in Ireland.

We had beaten New Zealand, the first International team in Irish history to do so. We eventually lost to England in a tough semi final but anyone who was in Marcoussis that day knows the feeling of anticipation and expectation that lay ahead of this team.

Ireland had been underestimated by New Zealand and even by some of their fans but they over-delivered and it lead to one of the greatest days in Irish sporting history.

Naturally after a World Cup a team goes through a transition period, Philip Doyle retired as head coach of the team and Ireland’s most capped players, Fiona Coughlan and Lynne Cantwell stepped down along with Siobhan Flemming, Laura Guest and Grace Davitt. However the future was bright for the Irish team, Niamh Briggs was named in the team of the tournament (Scrumqueens) and took over the captaincy from Fiona Coughlan.

Alison Miller who scored one of the most famous tries of the tournament was coming into her own and a wealth of players who had stood up at the world cup were ready for the next challenge.

From the first game of the 2015 6 Nations to the Italy match two weeks ago 32 new players have been capped under Tom Tierney and the management team, ie. 32 new caps in 16 games since the 2014 World Cup.

And to put that into context, during Philip Doyle’s last four years as Irish Head Coach, 21 new players were capped across 4 seasons, including 1 World Cup and 4 6Nations tournaments. 14 of those 21 caps came in the first two years of the World Cup cycle.

Not only did this give the players time to gain invaluable test match experience it also allowed them to develop and implement structures while building effective partnerships on the pitch.

New caps and inconsistencies in positions means that with three competitive games to go before the World Cup, it appears the management team still do not know who their best 23 are.

Four different scrum-halves have been used, three different 10’s – Nora Stapleton, Nikki Caughey and Sene Naoupu who played there against England in the November International in 2015. If they do indeed pull Sene Naoupu from this weekend’s squad against France, Ireland have no experienced 10 in the current set up to call upon should Nora Stapleton pick up an injury. Nikki Caughey remains the most realistic option and we would be surprised not to see her included this weekend but she has not played since being dropped after the Autumn International against Canada and wasn’t even listed in this year’s 6 Nations squad that was named back in January. With out-half such a key position, our lack of depth and over reliance on Stapleton is worrying.

Six hookers have been utilised with the potential for this to increase to seven depending on who is selected to cover for the injured Jennie Finlay this weekend. Meanwhile, two capped Irish International hookers are playing club rugby on a weekly basis – Zoe Grattage (Highfield) and Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians) who has over 50 caps to her name and whose club are currently sitting on top of the AIL League.

Since 2015 the management team have used 8 different centre partnerships – Sene Naoupu a stalwart in the 12 position has played with 5 different 13’s outside her – how can an effective partnership be developed with so much change? Nine different wingers have started the last 16 test games while he has also capped eight different props – Ailis Egan and Lindsey Peat being the only two consistently called upon.

However it wasn’t until the Autumn Series in 2016 did we see the most inconsistency from the Irish camp. We were setup to play England, Canada and New Zealand, the top three teams in the world, an ambitious series however you want to look at it. In the England game three players received their first cap’s for the women’s team. But this is what Autumn Series are for isn’t it, trial and error? For Canada there were 10 changes to the side that lost to England and two new caps again. And finally New Zealand, the first matchup since our historic victory, again saw ten changes from the team that lost to Canada. We finished the series 0-3.

At this stage, we were less than 12 months away from a Rugby World Cup and it appears that the Irish management team really has no idea who their best 15 are, because your best 15 are those whom you should have sent out to take on the 3 top ranked nations in the World. It should then be up to new players to break into this squad and rightfully take a position.

So following this we now have a wealth of players capped for Ireland, but what has this given us? There are a large number of players with 2/3 caps to their name, with very limited time on the pitch, who were brought in for a match here and there and then released back out to the extended squad to continue with the International S+C programme with no clear information from management on whether they are still in the plans for the looming World Cup.

Would it not have been more beneficial to integrate players gradually into the team whilst having them surrounded by experience? Tierney may argue that he has developed a wider pool of experienced players but are players with 2/3 caps and limited playing time really experienced players? Would it not have been more effective to cap fewer players and give those involved more playing time? If the argument is that there are not enough competitive internationals to test players then why has the IRFU not developed the inter-pro series further or started an U20’s side like England and France?

While all this is going on we need to remember that the women’s 15’s set up in Ireland is still non-professional, these players are still in college or working Mon-Fri and training in the morning, evening and at the weekend. These players are sacrificing their personal life for the women’s game. And in our opinion are not getting the same level of commitment from the union in return for their inputs.

If the current rumours are true and the team is to lose three starting players ahead of the crucial clash against France, a team they will also face in this years World Cup, it is just another way of telling the players in the 15’s setup that they are not going to be given the opportunity to have a consistent build up to the World Cup in Dublin and Belfast this August. In 2016 the focus was on 7’s, and this is perfectly acceptable, the squad were chasing qualification for the Rio Olympics. This year Ireland are hosting the world’s biggest competition in 15’s rugby and they are still not been given the support of the union to fairly compete at the tournament. Anthony Eddy, an internationally recognised 7’s coach, has a clear plan for the 7’s development but unfortunately we have not seen the same approach for the 15’s game.

Accountability is a term often used by coaches, be accountable for your position, for your player, for your job. We would like for Tom Tierney, Anthony Eddy and the management team to be held accountable for the inconsistencies that are rampant within this setup. We want someone from the IRFU to clarify how less than three years after beating the world champions and with just 6 months remaining before hosting the World Cup and 32 new caps later how we are just narrowly beating Scotland, a team who we have not lost against since the 2006 World Cup.

IRFU, Eddy and Tierney, please do not underestimate us like New Zealand underestimated Ireland on the 5th of August in Marcoussis in 2014. Please do not think that we, as a nation, are happy for you to throw away our chances of reaching a World Cup final on home soil. Please do not think that we, as Irish supporters, do not expect to win every match that Ireland step out to play.

And please do think about how seriously we support the women’s game in Ireland and how much we want to see it grow and flourish in the weeks, months and years to come.

Anyone?

Has 15’s In Ireland Been Kicked Into Touch? (Women’s Rugby In Ireland)

Ireland Women may lose three players to Sevens team for France game (Irish Times)

Women’s rugby on Broadsheet.ie

Pic via IrishRugby.ie

21 thoughts on “How To Bugger Up Women’s Rugby

  1. Rainy Day

    At the risk of getting slaughtered here….. why is this issue getting coverage on BS? Women’s rugby is an example of ‘positive discrimination’ of sorts, a minority sport that punches way above its weight with coverage in the national press and on TV. I think their last game was shown live on RTE? …correct me if I am wrong. For the amount of people who participate in the sport this is massively dis proportionate. I have been involved in a few sports where the standard was pretty high and people put in a serious commitment for 10+ years of their life, and they would not get anywhere near the coverage / exposure that Women’s rugby gets.
    I did see a few games of Women’s rugby, one being Ireland away to Scotland (two years a go I think – live on RTE as well). The standard in that game was beyond appalling, the Irish team were decent but the Scots were brutal, it is no exaggeration to say that your average u-12 local rugby game would have been of a higher standard – with regard to level of skill. This game should not have been on national TV.
    Sports should earn the coverage and exposure they receive, and obviously with coverage and exposure the sponsorship follows and then the sport can grow further. To my mind Women’s rugby has in no way earned their current standing – this post being an example.

    Reply
    1. Dancost

      Totally agree. It’s an appalling standard of sport and baffling that it gets as much game time coverage as the men’s during the six nations. I can think of far more popular sports which are much more deserving of screen time, let alone financing.

      It’s too slow, not nearly skillful enough and without doubt just filling the gender quota.

      PC gone mad.

      Reply
      1. Grace

        Yeh how dare RTE show a bunch of WOMEN playing sport – what were they thinking?
        Seriously there is enough men in sport on TV all the TIME – how can you begrudge live showing of the women’s six nations campaign? That Irish team has achieved huge success in recent years despite no funding, little support from the IRFU and very little coverage in the media. Its about time RTE paid them some attention.

        Also it doesn’t get the same coverage as the men’s – far from it. Every day during the Six Nations the men’s team is obsessed over, on radio and TV. The women’s game is very much an afterthought. I’m actually surprised they are showing the games live now, they have never bothered before.

        Reply
        1. Rainy Day

          “Yeh how dare RTE show a bunch of WOMEN playing sport – what were they thinking?”…that’s not what I was saying at all…read my post again. It is the level of coverage that Women’s rugby specifically gets. Plenty of sport women play is of a very high standard and well worth it’s spot on TV, Tennis, Athletics etc.

          Reply
        2. Dancost

          I’m not begrudging it. They’re just not very good. And they’re slow and not very skillful. Nothing to do with them being women. It’s just not in any way entertaining to watch. It’s actually kinda embarrassing really to think they’re international athletes. Obviously that’s why the 15’s is a no no…

          I would much rather see the screen time go to more popular sports, be they either men or women.

          Reply
          1. Frilly Keane

            So?

            Cork Mens Hurling is beyond shyte
            Feckit
            Who am I trying ta’cod
            So’s the football

            But it doesn’t stop the amount of coverage and media they get

            So on a pound for pound
            Who’s better value for the kinda results you could chip a tooth on

            Mná na Rubbie XV
            Or any of the other Xfives out there

    2. Clampers Outside!

      If there’s a sport you want covered why don’t you send some coverage in. I believe that Aaron who submitted this is a rugby fan. Many of his posts are rugby related. he makes an effort to contribute to the site, and his pieces get posted.

      it’s not a conspiracy…. submit something if it means that much to ya ffs, as Aaron does for his love of rugby. It’s that simple.

      Reply
      1. Rainy Day

        So its that simple that every thing that is sent in will get published? Hardly……surely BS have some sort of editorial review to decide if something is ‘newsworthy’?…if so how in the name of God did this pass the test?

        Reply
        1. Clampers Outside!

          Of course not everything gets published. But if you have something you have a gra for isn’t it up to you to spread that, and not be moaning about someone who does just that.
          ‘Newsworthy’ can be anything round these parts. Don’t get hung up on that, you’d be surprised… we all can be… at what gets published :)
          I submit stuff all the time, every week. No where near a 1/5 or less of what I submit gets posted tho…. that’s what the editor is for

          * shakes fist at screen and spits on floor… before tightening belt *

          Reply
  2. kid jensen

    And the team is arguably doing better at 15s than 7s. Remember that howler last year when the Irish player was tackled just as she was about to touch down. I wonder who wrote the post.

    Reply
  3. kid jensen

    I shared the post to my facebook page and a pal whose involved in a rugby club in the southeast says womens rugby is really taking off. they have three girls sides and a senior side. if the irish players are contracted 7s players then its to the 7s they go.

    Reply
  4. Frilly Keane

    Well now
    Well now
    Did ye ever tink ye’d see the day yere about ta’

    I’m declaring for the Foreign Gsme

    I’m IN girls

    Tell me what I can do
    and lemme get stuck in

    N’ put a bitta manners on the jobs for the goys lot
    Just don’t expect me ta’tog out

    Johnny Preposterous will put sum’ting together
    n’ remember girls
    I’m well able t’deal with institutions that support, endorse, and pamper less successful Mens sides than than their better preforming and record breaking Ladies

    Let’s MAN ourselves up ladies

    Reply

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