Irish success in women’s rugby was no fluke
England launch a campaign to increase women in the game by 10,000 in three years
Lynne Cantwell (right) and Nora Stapleton during the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Players on the Irish Women’s rugby team believed that people considered their 2013 Grand Slam win and particularly their win over the English team was a fluke.
“We know we have to train harder if we want people to take note of us,” said the Irish outhalf. “We learned a lot, I think, from the Grand Slam. People maybe thought it was a bit of a fluke that we won that.
“You get frustrated when you hear they’re talking about how English players didn’t play. At the same time the number of players England have training, the number of players England have in High Performance programs from the age of 18 up is way and above what we have.
“No matter what team they put out it takes a very strong performance to beat them. Certainly a lot of people speaking about it said maybe it was a fluke...you read it and maybe it frustrates you a little bit. But at the same time you’re kind of used to reading different things in the paper. We don’t worry about that kind of thing too much.
“We know on the day we played extremely well when we beat them that day and even if they didn’t have their full strength team, which when you look at it was maybe one or two forwards and one or two of the backs. I think now especially when we played in the last Six Nations there was only a couple of scores between ourselves and England and ourselves and France.”
Stapleton added that the success in France of qualifying from the Pool phase by beating the top side in the world, New Zealand before departing after a defeat by England and the attention it drew should push women’s sport to the fore.
But the Donegal born player warned that to maintain a profile and sustain support, teams must continue to win matches.
“You have to win. You have to give people something to talk about,” said Stapleton. “The teams that win - and it’s the same in the men - get the most attention. But I do think that women’s sport is on the rise and the more we put in performances the more we can continue to get that support from the government and what the IRFU.
Stapleton’s point is well made, especially in the light of the English RFU announcing the introduction of a new strategy aimed at increasing the number of women playing regular contact rugby by 10,000 to 25,000 within three years.
England’s World Cup win last month has raised the profile of the women’s game and 20 players have since been placed on central contracts, enabling them to train full-time.
The RFU launched its new campaign at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday and development director Steve Grainger has outlined the objective of “normalising women’s involvement in rugby”.
“Women’s rugby has been a work in progress for the last 12-18 months,” Grainger said at the RFU’s media day at Twickenham. “However, winning the World Cup has given us a massive boost because we now have a trophy to take around and some great role models.
“Our key aim is normalising women’s involvement in rugby and positioning the sport as something that has athleticism, strength and toughness.
“All of our research shows that those aren’t things women are afraid of. They’re things they’re proud of, so we have a real asset. We want to build on the massive increase there is in women doing things like Tough Mudder and hot yoga.”
The RFU’s campaign has the support of Helen Grant, the UK’s Minister for sport and tourism.
“The future of women’s rugby at elite level is bright and the England team is an inspiration to women and girls coming into the sport,” Grant said.
“I welcome the RFU’s strategy to get more women involved in the game - be that as players, coaches or volunteers.” Grainger confirmed the RFU’s commitment to using the next year’s men’s World Cup, hosted by England, as the platform to increase participation in state schools.
“There’s been much talk of the demise of rugby in schools, particularly in state secondary schools and we’re on a real mission to reverse this,” Grainger said. “Four hundred state secondary schools who don’t currently play rugby will be playing rugby by the time the World Cup kicks off in September.
“We’re well on the way to that target - another 100 are starting this week which will take us to 300. The final 100 will come in September 2015. “We will keep the momentum of that going to reach 750 schools by the time the World Cup hits Japan in 2019.”