RUGBY WOMEN'S SIX NATIONS NEWS:THE IRFU have accepted "some responsibility" for the debacle that led to the Ireland women's rugby squad's 17-hour odyssey to Pau for last Saturday's Six Nations match against France.
On Friday the team flew to Paris only to miss the connection for the 800km TGV trip to Pau after being stranded in rush hour traffic. It meant an overnight train was boarded, with six women forced to share each berth. Despite three hours sleep in their hotel, on arrival in Pau at 7am, ahead of a 3.30pm kick-off, they bravely lost 8-7.
Scott Walker, the IRFU’s newly appointed director of rugby development and the club game, was part of the entourage. At the post-match reception, Walker apologised to the players on behalf of the union.
It is believed the women’s squad will be corporate guests of the IRFU at the Italy game on February 25th at the Aviva Stadium.
Walker was unavailable to discuss future plans for women’s rugby yesterday but a new strategy regarding the development of Sevens and matches outside the Six Nations window, is to be “accelerated and announced in the coming weeks”.
“The IRFU must take some responsibility in this,” said a union spokesman. “The IRFU will be reviewing the travel procedures and highlighting the problems the team experienced. The IRFU consider women’s rugby a key priority going forward in terms of investment and development and would reject that there is inequality in how the women’s team is treated.”
When it was pointed out to a union spokesman the Irish men’s senior team went on an earlier chartered flight on Friday for a later kick-off in Paris on Saturday, it was claimed a direct comparison cannot be made.
Answer: The men are professional, the women amateur.
The chartered flight, by the way, was full.
When it was also highlighted that the Irish under-20 men’s team (there is no Irish under-20s women’s team) departed a day earlier for their match in Grenoble (by direct flight), it was again pointed out a direct comparison could not be made.
The under-20s are semi-professional and mostly students so they have more free time in comparison to the women, most of whom are in full-time employment.
An IRFU statement continued: “In relation to this (the women’s) fixture, we felt it would be too great a time for them to take off from their daily lives by asking them to travel a day earlier and in fact the only possible flight option would see them having to travel on Wednesday, requiring three days off.”
The squad, however, have managed to get time off work for several training camps this season.
“The entire thing here is that whatever the IRFU are saying, the travel for the team was a massive cock-up,” said Alison Donnelly, former PR officer for the Irish women’s team and now head of communications at London Wasps.
“There are loads of nearby airports (to Pau) and no international team should be negotiating rush hour Paris traffic to get to a game so far away the next day.”
An online petition has been set up to hold the IRFU accountable for their treatment of women’s rugby. It will be submitted to the union at the end of March.
Since former international winger Jeannette Feighery's critical letter of the IRFU was printed in The Irish Timesthis week, the union have endeavoured to stress the annual budget "purely for the senior Ireland women's team" is €230,000.
"France and England are semi-professional, even Scotland and Wales have an under-20s team, Ireland don't," said Donnelly, editor of scrumqueens.com. "They play the Six Nations and that is it. They don't get together again until November, so I don't know what that money is being spent on. Five games a year. They don't pay for World Cups because the IRB funds that.
“They have invested in women officers in all the branches, which is good.”
The Irish Women’s Rugby Football union was formally disbanded in 2008.
“One of the key agreements in the process of integration was that there would be a separate women’s committee with a direct link to the IRFU domestic games committee,” Donnelly continued.
“It existed for three seasons but appears to have been disbanded at the end of last season.”
The union’s refusal to enter a women’s team in this summer’s European Sevens championship means they cannot qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. “The lack of Sevens investment or interest, however, is what really grates,” says Donnelly.
“Ireland have no plan at all for women’s Sevens, and it is about to become a huge sport as the IRB are about to launch a world series, like in the men’s game”