Irish women’s rugby ‘Legacy’ campaign gathers pace

Wrist band campaign against IRFU treatment of women’s game goes international

Players from Wasps Ladies show their support for the #Legacy? campaign on Saturday. Photograph: @Waspsladies

Players from Wasps Ladies show their support for the #Legacy? campaign on Saturday. Photograph: @Waspsladies

 

The legacy wrist band campaign, protesting IRFU treatment of the women’s game in Ireland has already gone international. On Saturday the Wasps FC players displayed the #legacy slogan before their match against Loughborough Lightning.

On Friday the IRFU stated that the women’s national team will get a full-time head coach “if necessary.”

“Six month part time is such a disappointment to hear when our Six Nations opposition, including Italy, have full time coaches,” tweeted Dr Claire Molloy, the Ireland captain, in response to the IRFU advertisement for the position recently vacated by Tom Tierney. “Left behind. #Legacy,” Dr Molloy added.

The protest will continue on Sunday across women’s AIL matches (kick-offs 1pm), including Old Belvedere against Blackrock RFC at Anglesea Road.

It would have started on Saturday but Railway Union versus UL Bohemians - two of the most progressive women’s clubs in Ireland - was postponed due to Storm Brian.

“This weekend we hope to stand united with our opposition and all women’s clubs across the country to highlight the IRFU’s lack of respect and ambition for the women’s game in Ireland,” stated the Old Belvedere women’s twitter account. “The disrespect shown in advertising the role of head coach for the two time Six Nations champions [2013 AND 2015]and previous World Cup semi-finalists [2014]speaks volumes for the priority the women’s game for the executives in Lansdowne Road.

“We are also extremely disheartened by the manner in which the IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora spoke of a newly promoted team to this league [TULLAMORE RFC]- a league which he has seldom attended and a competition which the union has taken little initiative in developing as a platform for aspiring internationals.”

This is a reference to Nucifora recently stating: “The women’s game in the 15s, we’ve got a lot of work to do in the level beneath international rugby. That’s where the work needs to be done.

“You should go and watch the AIL. You saw results like 105-0, that’s not great and that has to be fixed at that level. We have to build that competition where it’s meaningful and sustainable.”

Tullamore RFC stated: “Demoralising to have our four year journey to promotion rubbished especially after work we have put building female structure in our club.”

Nucifora, who installed Anthony Eddy in charge of the Sevens programmes, for both men and women, along with a third role as women’s Director of Rugby, also stated recently: “We have to increase the number of coaches, the quality of the number of coaches. We have got to be able to connect the pathways.”

The women’s AIL clubs are waiting to hear how this can be done and how much financial investment will come from the IRFU.

“There is some good work going on in the underage women’s area,” said Nucifora. “The under-18 girls and the sevens, they won the UK Schools Games 7s the other week which is a strong competition. They did pretty well in Europe a couple of weeks ago.

“I just view it as rugby, be it sevens or 15s, it’s all rugby. We have to work out ways to be able to utilise the talent across both paths.”

The IRFU came up with a neat slogan for the 2017 World Cup. An extra 2,017 women and girls will start playing the game. People at grassroots level pointed out that’s an extra 88 teams. Where will they play? On what pitches? Who will coach them?

The IRFU claim to be deep in the development of a “long term strategy” for women’s rugby. It is unclear who is overseeing this work as Eddy has the two, partly-government funded, Sevens squads to run.

The player protest is sparked by perceived inaction despite well established plans to shift head coach Tom Tierney from the women to the men’s under-20s. Tierney revealed his job with the union was secure in the last press conference following Ireland’s disastrous World Cup campaign.

On Friday, in an attempt at clarity, the IRFU released a statement expressing “regret at any upset caused” by the release of “part-time/casual, six month contract” job advertisement for the women’s 15 aside head coaching role. But they also stated: “Contrary to recent comment, the IRFU has not downgraded the coaching role in relation to the Ireland Women’s team.”

Tierney, they said, only held a full-time position because he doubled up as Eddy’s assistant in the Sevens programme.

The “regret” appears to stem from widespread disappointment expressed by current and ex-internationals, most of whom were caught completely unaware of the IRFU assertion that Tierney was not a full-time coach.

Dr Molloy is not alone. Jenny Murphy, the Ireland centre at two World Cups, described it as “a kick in the teeth” and “five steps backwards.”

Another, currently unresolved issue, is when the IRFU will allow RTÉ to broadcast women’s internationals. The national broadcaster want to partner them with the male under-20s in Donnybrook on Friday nights.

This proved a resounding success for the England double header earlier this year. The amateur players do not appear to have insurmountable problems with getting time off work to fill this prime time slot.

A communication issue also appears to be hindering progress behind the scenes. Eddy could be facing a crucial November camp (for both 15s and Sevens) on the 18th and 19th without key players, unless the IRFU solve the impending fixture clash with a full round of AIL matches.

The priority, the players can only hope, between now and the Six Nations opener in Toulouse on February 3rd is that the IRFU and Nucifora puts the same effort into recruiting a full-time head coach of the women’s national side that they do into securing coaches for the men’s professional game.

The World Cup proved that Ireland have stalled while almost every other nation is making significant progress. The legacy protest is not even seeking equality - the male game is professional, the women’s amateur - but they are demanding that their governing body prove they are serious about protecting the future of the game. This requires financial commitment, as Nucifora stated, from the grassroots up.

If male professional players in Ireland wear the “#legacy” wrist bands during next weekend’s interpro games in Galway and Belfast the Irish women no longer have a protest, they will have a movement.

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