IRFU turned down women’s Test series in Australia

Australian Women’s Rugby proposed the fixtures and offered to cover accommodation

The IRFU rejected an offer from Rugby Australia to host a historic three-test double-header of men's and women's internationals.

A formal invitation for Ireland to play the Wallaroos at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane this Saturday, followed by AAMI Park in Melbourne on June 16th and Allianz Stadium in Sydney on June 23rd, was seemingly turned down despite the only cost being flights to send the Irish women on a groundbreaking summer tour.

Josephine Sukkar, the Australian Women's Rugby president, confirmed she proposed the Test series, to be played before the men's games, and even offered to cover the Ireland squad's accommodation in Australia.

“Certainly we invited them because that’s the way we are looking to go forward, as the governing body, giving our women the same opportunities as our men,” said Sukkar.

“I’m sure cost played a big factor. It’s a shame as we feel we are closely matched with Ireland and it would have given us great preparation for New Zealand.”

An IRFU spokesperson said: "When the offer came we'd already decided to focus on November fixtures to build to the Six Nations. "

However, current and past women internationals have privately expressed disappointment that the curtain-raiser for Ireland’s return to Soldier Field in Chicago this November, when Joe Schmidt’s men face Italy, sees the US women facing New Zealand.

The USA do play Ireland on November 18th in Donnybrook, a day after the All Blacks match at the Aviva Stadium.

As the Women's 15-a-side game continues towards professionalism without Ireland, the Wallaroos face world champions the Black Ferns before the Bledisloe Cup matches in Auckland and Sydney next August. With no southern hemisphere equivalent of the Six Nations, Rugby Australia have been trying to organise more games to ensure a competitive battle for the Laurie O'Reilly Cup.

Josephine and Tony Sukkar, the husband and wife founders of construction company Buildcorp, previously pulled their sponsorship of the National Rugby Championship in Australia, citing gender inclusion issues after Rugby Australia failed to deliver a women's equivalent.

“For us as a business to support a pathway that only developed one gender, we couldn’t get away with that as a business and corporate Australia can’t do that anymore,” said Sukkar last February. “It didn’t reflect who we were.”

Changes have come with ARU chief executive Raelene Castle announcing equal entry pay for male and female Sevens players. Also, the inaugural Super W tournament began this year.

But it is New Zealand where a giant leap towards professionalism has really occurred with 30 Black Ferns signed on €27,000 annual contracts.

England also formed a semi-professional Premiership since the 2017 World Cup (when their players were on central contracts).

The IRFU, under the leadership of High Performance director David Nucifora, has focused the development of the women's rugby primarily through their ever improving Sevens programme.

This latest news comes despite an ongoing strategic review of women's rugby in Ireland, co-chaired by Mary Quinn and Su Carty.

“We have met over 200 representatives from clubs around the country,” said Carty. “We have met international players, Sevens and 15s, we’ve met with past players and we’ve reached out far and wide with stakeholders involved in women’s game in Ireland.

“People have been really straight with us about what they want. They want to see a genuine commitment from the top that women’s and girls’ rugby in Ireland is going to move to the next level. They want to see effective action.”

The women’s committee was formed following the “legacy” campaign, initiated by Irish female club players, when the IRFU advertised the vacant national head coaching job as a “part-time casual” role on a “six-month” contract following the disastrous 2017 World Cup on home soil.

Last October Philip Browne, the IRFU chief executive, acknowledged the "union's role in causing unintentional concern and confusion around the future of the women's game in Ireland" after 33 players signed a letter sent to Rugby Players Ireland mandating the representative body to act on their behalf following widespread alarm caused by the advertisement.

New Zealander Adam Griggs was subsequently appointed as head coach, he reports directly to women's director of rugby Anthony Eddy, and Griggs did guide Ireland to third place in the Six Nations, a respectable return considering several high profile retirements.

The struggle for equality off the field also continues with leading women's club Railway Union RFC recently withdrawing their motion seeking senior status at the Leinster AGM, after the Leinster Branch requested they await the recommendations of the "inclusiveness review group" chaired by World Rugby administrator David Carrigy.

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