IRFU has no plans to take an Ireland Test match to Croke Park

New women’s director of rugby position to be filled by September

David Humphreys, Kevin Potts and and Kate Binchy at the IRFU's strategic launch at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Among the topics discussed during a media briefing by the IRFU to launch their new strategic plan were the fact the Union has no plans to take a Test match to Croke Park, that the 30 per cent contribution from the provinces to national contracts funding has already been reallocated across other provinces in terms of their elite programmes for next season, the thorny issue of interprovincial transfers and the appointment of a ‘Women’s Strategy Implementation Lead’.

Chief executive Kevin Potts, new performance director David Humphreys and strategy and projects manager Kate Binchy were on hand to discuss a plan that deviates from previous iterations, notably in the absence of KPIs (key performance indicators) which will instead be delivered on an annual basis.

Leinster’s success in selling out Croke Park for a Champions Cup tie hasn’t prompted the IRFU to consider staging a Test match there.

“Croke Park and our friends in the GAA are very friendly to Irish rugby and Leinster have access to it when the Aviva isn’t available next year, Munster have access to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the collaboration is fantastic,” Potts explained.

READ MORE

“But if you’re asking me, will there be a Test played there? No. The home of Irish rugby is the Aviva Stadium and that’s where our Test games will be played.”

Nigel Carolan, the Galway man plotting a hole through Munster's defence

Listen | 33:55

The Union had already clarified the change to the funding framework with regard to national contracts, whereby a province contributes 30 per cent of the total. But Potts outlined that one net aspiration was that “it will enable David [Humphreys] to invest additional resources in those provinces that maybe don’t have the resources that a province like Leinster have”.

“So, it, hopefully, will have a positive impact. We’ll keep that number under review, it may go up or it may go down. It depends on how things evolve.”

On the issue of player traffic between provinces, Humphreys conceded that it was “an emotive issue” but that there wasn’t “one single answer or set of principles that you can say ‘this is where we’re going to go forward’.

“When players put on the green jersey, they expect to win. We must continue to drive that. Provincial success and national success aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s actually the complete opposite. We need our provinces to be competitive, so Ireland continues to get to where they’ve got to.

“The game is the best coach. We will never move a player under contract against their will. It goes back to that identity piece.

“Where you have a player who we believe could be performing out here, sitting in third, fourth or fifth in the province and not getting the game time that they need to develop, that’s sending a strong message about that player’s ambition to Andy Farrell and the people who pick the team.

Leinster hosted Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup semi-final before a sold-out crowd at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“We want players who are competitive, who are going to give it everything they have to play for Ireland. If they choose not to do that for whatever reason, so be it.”

The IRFU is looking at the elite-level club game, an ‘A’ interprovincial series and the Emerging Ireland tour to ensure meaningful, consistent, high-calibre, game time.

The IRFU has decided on what is essentially a women’s director of rugby who will report directly to Potts. The position will be filled by September, thereby giving the incumbent a good run at next year’s women’s Rugby World Cup.

The strategic plan, which runs from 2024 to 2028, 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.

“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. We’re engaging with potential sponsors all the time. 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. You look at how our women’s XVs 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.”

Potts pointed to the fact that “over 150 clubs with girls’ and women’s programmes, which is really positive,” and that “over the last four or five years we haven’t had to incentivise them that much because the vast majority of our clubs are looking to invite girls and women into their clubs and get the game going.”

The IRFU’s Clubs of Ireland scheme has provided some funding but he concluded that “over the next strategic cycle a focus on women’s rugby can be built into that scheme to provide incentive, but I don’t believe they actually need an incentive because the work that’s gone on so far has been really positive, genuinely”.

Humphreys pointed to conversations with Gillian McDarby, the IRFU women’s head of performance and pathways, on growing the Celtic Challenge competition for women to get all four provinces competing.

“We are trying to make sure that all our plans are aligned. I am absolutely sure that over the course of the next two or three years you will see a very well structured and organised evolution of the Celtic Challenge to ensure that as we get more girls and women coming through the professional game.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer