In praise of . . . the Irish women’s rugby team

This week, Irish sport’s history-makers just happened to be women

Ireland’s Ailis Egan and Gillian Bourke celebrate after Tuesday’s famous victory.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s Ailis Egan and Gillian Bourke celebrate after Tuesday’s famous victory. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 01:00

What a week for Irish sport. More than 100 years of battles on the rugby pitch and, finally, a senior international Irish team conquer New Zealand, the world number-ones.

The history-makers just happen to be women, competing on foreign soil against world- class, cutting-edge competition.

This was no insignificant friendly: the Black Ferns were favourites to become world champions for the fifth time.

Unlike the men, these players have not been nurtured by a well-funded, well-structured machine from school level, don’t train as a professional group seven days a week, and have had to build their schedules around their day jobs.

This is not about a battle of the sexes along the oft-tweeted lines of “ladies showing the lads how it’s done”. This is about a 2013 Grand Slam-winning team whose own sporting body – the IRFU – appears stuck in a different era. Even the international male under-20s have benefited from a much higher level of official support.

Think of the 2012 Six Nations, when the women’s team travelled 27 hours by train through a freezing France, arriving in Pau at 7am on the day of the game, which they lost. The men had flown to Paris that morning on a chartered flight.

Despite the attitudes and obstacles, Ireland’s women have proven they can more than hold their own with the best – and infinitely better resourced – team in the world.