Anthony Eddy’s decision to vacate his post as the IRFU’s Director of Sevens and Women’s Rugby with immediate affect comes the day before the union host a media briefing in relation to the independent report conducted by FairPlay Ltd into the failure of Ireland to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021.
While the union had expressed its intention to break with its customary practice in making the report public, The Irish Times understands that legally they will not be able to do so, as the terms of reference stipulate that the report cannot be published, most likely because so many individuals are named in it.
Many in the women’s game believed Eddy’s position had become untenable in light of his comments last November when he attributed the failure of the Irish womens’ team to qualify for the World Cup to the pressure the players put on themselves, and their own errors, rather than any flaws in their preparation or the IRFU’s programme when suffering losses to Spain and Scotland in Parma. Italy qualified directly while Scotland have since done so too after breezing through the repechage.
In perhaps seeking to deflect attention away from the union and himself, Eddy provoked an outcry and turned the spotlight on himself. Hooker Cliodhna Moloney tweeted: “I could have sworn slurry spreading season was spring… I stand corrected.”
She was supported by teammates and ex-players, with since retired captain Ciara Griffin revealing that Eddy had apologised to the team “in case people took offence”.
Soon after Eddy’s comments, 62 current and former Irish women’s rugby players wrote to the Irish government expressing their loss of “all trust and confidence” in the IRFU.
Noting the Irish team finished the 2013-14 season ranked fourth in the world, having won a Six Nations Grand Slam the year before, the letter added: "This triggered the beginning of a new World Cup cycle and new leadership within Irish rugby with David Nucifora and Anthony Eddy overseeing the women's programme.
“The end of this cycle ended in bitter disappointment as the team finished eighth in their home World Cup in 2017, crashing out in the pool stages.
“In response, the IRFU produced an action plan for the game with a number of high level targets.
“However we find ourselves at the end of 2021 with those plans in disarray and with a large majority of those targets missed, including the XV team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup and the sevens team’s failure to qualify for the Olympics. Notwithstanding the challenges of the pandemic, these facts represent significant failure.”
This prompted an even more ill-adjudged statement by the union which described the letter by the 62 former and current players as “disappointing”, adding that “the IRFU refutes the overall tenor of the document.”
Appearing before the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, the Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers said: “I was disappointed with some of the remarks made in the statement from the IRFU - I think it could have been more conciliatory in its approach - and I’ll certainly reflect that when I meet them.”
The IRFU thanked the Australian Eddy “for his time and dedication in the role, highlights of which include the historic qualification for the men’s sevens team to the Olympic Games for the first time, and our women’s sevens team’s recent success in Seville.
“The IRFU will now put measures in place to ensure his duties pass to existing staff, while taking time to reassess the future requirements for the women’s and sevens games.”
Eddy said: “I am proud of each of the teams, the athletes, and staff that I have worked with. I wish all these people and teams the very best and thank the IRFU for their understanding.
“The last two years during Covid have given me time to reflect on the next phase of my career and life. It can be difficult living so far from home, family and friends. Having assessed everything, I’ve decided to change things up, and seek new opportunities.”
IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, said: “I want to thank Anthony for the commitment and expertise he brought to his role. The IRFU have been very fortunate to have had someone of the calibre of Anthony to have built these programmes up from nothing. I wish him the very best of luck for any new challenge he takes up.
“The programmes will continue for now with existing staffing while we take some time to look for suitably qualified coaches to replace Anthony.”