IRFU announce €1.1m funding for women’s Sevens rugby

Union target qualification for the Rio Olympics

Fiona Coughlan, captain of the triumphant Ireland women’s rugby team, with her nephew Charlie Coughlan.

Fiona Coughlan, captain of the triumphant Ireland women’s rugby team, with her nephew Charlie Coughlan.


come from the Irish Sports Council. This will create a high performance unit of 20 players, with four full-time management, with the stated intention of qualifying for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016.

The announcement coincided with Fiona Coghlan ’s Grand Slam-winning side arriving back from Italy with the Six Nations trophy.

The qualification process for the Olympics has yet to be confirmed and until such time Ireland will only enter IRB tournaments on an invitational basis. They are competing in one such competition this year. “If being involved in all IRB tournaments becomes part of the qualification process then we’ll enter them,” said an IRFU spokesman.

It was also confirmed yesterday that players will not be criss-crossing between 15 aside and Sevens rugby after this season. “There needs to be two completely separate squads because as amateur players you cannot do the two,” said Lynne Cantwell, vice-captain of Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning side, who is also a key component in John Skurr’s Sevens team and a full-time physiotherapist based in London.

Represent Ireland
The union’s solution to this problem is a Talent Identification Programme (TIP), which has already viewed 100 women from other sports – mainly Gaelic games and athletics – with a view to strengthening the depth of talent.

Eight of the Grand Slam-winning squad will represent Ireland at an invitational Sevens tournament in Hong Kong next Friday, followed by the IRB women’s world series in Guangzhou, China on March 30th.

The Sports Council will confirm their funding on Thursday, with the €1.1 million covering full-time head coach Skurr, team manager Gemma Crowley, strength and conditioning coach Ross Callaghan and a nutritionist.

There currently remains no plan by the IRFU to adopt a similar programme for a men’s squad. Ireland remain the only major rugby nation in the world that deems it too expensive to invest in male Sevens rugby.

So, while the union’s main priority for women’s rugby is to qualify for Rio, they just don’t know how that can be done, and they are not going to make a full committment to the IRB circuit.

It was also confirmed yesterday that Sevens captain Claire Molloy has recovered from near hypothermia after Ireland’s historic 6-3 victory over Italy last Sunday afternoon.

On returning to the changing rooms in Parabiago rugby club outside Milan, it was discovered that all the hot water had been used up by the Italian players.

Warm shower
Molloy had to return to the team hotel to get a warm shower. The inspirational flanker is unable to lead the Sevens this month due to final exams, so the captaincy passes to Jeannette Feighery.

“The success of the women’s team is a mark of their commitment to the game and the culmination of many years hard work by the players and management,” said Scott Walker, the IRFU director of rugby development.

“I know that everybody in Irish rugby would like to congratulate them on their achievement. The IRFU will be working to ensure that this success acts as a springboard for recruitment to women’s rugby and we see women’s sevens and the Olympics as a key component to that development.

“The success of our sevens programme in such a short space of time to qualify for the Sevens Rugby World Cup, which takes place in Moscow in June, is a mark of the talent and commitment of our representative women.

“To continue to sustain this, it is important for us to expand our pool of players and to identify possible future players.

“The IRFU’s Olympic Sevens programme will entail both the talent identification process and necessary support structures for athletes to compete at the levels necessary to not only hopefully qualify for the Rio game, but compete for a podium finish.”