IRFU to create new role responsible for implementation of women’s rugby plan

New position, which will report directly to chief executive Kevin Potts, set to be filled by the end of the year

Ireland qualified for next year's World Cup by virtue of their recent third place finish in the Six Nations. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

The IRFU will appoint a women’s strategy implementation lead, that will report directly to chief executive, Kevin Potts as part of the union’s strategic plan for rugby in Ireland (2024-2028). The person will be responsible for implementing the women’s rugby plan in Ireland.

Potts explained: “We will be advertising for it at the end of the summer so it will be a Q4 [quarter four] appointment, and we want to get somebody who fits the bill for this position, it is really important to us. I have always had in my head a Q4 appointment, which will give a good run into the Women’s Rugby World Cup next year.”

The strategic plan, which was 15 months in gestation and involved a consultation process with 4,800 rugby stakeholders identified the women’s game as a significant growth area for the sport in Ireland. Potts elaborated on the assertion and offered context on what it would mean.

“I think that would be a view around the world, that a true area for growth in our sport is with girls and women. We fully embrace and believe that [and] that’s why we are giving it a major focus over the next four years.


“You start, even anecdotally, we had three Six Nations games at home this year, record crowds, each of the events made a small profit which is very positive. In England, where obviously they are far more advanced than we are in terms of their structures and competitions, they’re getting a big crowd at their games.

“We’re engaging with potential sponsors all the time, there’s greater interest, and the numbers of girls and women that are turning up at our mini-rugby and play rugby programmes is phenomenal.

“I think, without doubt, it’s a true area for growth, and we in the IRFU and the provinces are committed to really giving it a boost over the next four years. I also think the Rugby World Cup next year in England will have a real defining moment for women’s rugby.

“I recall looking at the Fifa Women’s World Cup around eight years ago, that was a moment where the soccer really took a step forward. Next year in England, full stadia for most of the games, and huge increase around the world from sponsors and partners, potentially, will give women’s rugby the boost we think it will get. We are definitely committed to building on that.

“You look at how our women’s XV finished third in the Six Nations, and qualified for the Rugby World Cup, and we have our women’s Sevens team about to go into the Olympics. There’s a window in the next 18 months which really enables us as a sport, IRFU and the provinces, to really try and maximise the window of opportunity, and we intend to do so.”

David Humphreys spoke to the media for the first time since replacing David Nucifora. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Potts was briefing the media alongside David Humphreys, who has succeeded David Nucifora as the IRFU’s performance director, a role he officially started 12 days, having previously shadowed the Australian since March to facilitate the handover, a process for which the former Ulster and Ireland outhalf was grateful.

“Being able to spend those three months with all the different teams - the men’s 15s, the women’s 15s, the men’s and women’s 7s, the U20s, U19s, U18s, you (get) a really good sense of what’s been going on and getting to know some of the staff but also the players without the pressure of decision making. Any bad decisions, I can still say that’s David Nucifora’s fault!

“But it has been really good, really effective in terms of the information, David and I have worked pretty well together. We haven’t been in each other’s pockets, and it’s worked very well.

Humphreys explained that he has his own ideas about tweaks that can be made as part of a new four-year strategy. Unlike previous strategic plans there are no overt KPIs (key performance indicators) included, those will be made public on an annual basis.

He said: “My view is that having come in and seen all the good stuff and having a much greater awareness of what has been done very well, but also a much great understanding of where some areas perhaps that we can do things, not necessarily better, but very differently and hopefully the outcome will be that we know from a high-performance point of view that we’re winning games.

“That’s the big difference in the strategic plan when we talk about winning teams. 20 years ago, it was about what game we could win to avoid the wooden spoon. The big difference now is we’re coming into every season with the expectation that our Irish men’s team is going to win, our provincial teams are going to be winning the URC, our provincial teams are going to be winning in Europe, so our mindset is absolutely that we’re here to win.

“We’re here to continue that. We know that so many of those teams within the system are at very, very different stages of their evolution and what that means is we will be working as quickly as we possibly can with them to address some of the areas.

“If you look at the women’s 15s going into a World Cup year, that’s a huge priority for us. Kevin has been very vocal in terms of where that sits in our strategy going forward. It’s about giving them support at a coaching level, playing level, and preparation level that will ensure that by the time we get into the World Cup, they’re in a good position to compete.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer