The Offload: Ireland women must be allowed to move with the times

Internet trolls abusing Sonja McLaughlin after England loss are ignorant cowards

Beibhinn Parsons is among Irish rugby’s brightest stars. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Beibhinn Parsons is among Irish rugby’s brightest stars. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Action needed for women’s rugby in Ireland

With or without Ireland, women’s rugby is turning professional in 2022. The Six Nations will make a permanent move to April and summer Test matches will be plentiful. The Kiwis, English and French have already made the leap.

Ireland will struggle to live with any of them as their current structures have been paralysed by the pandemic. All female club and interprovincials were cancelled in 2020. The only evidence we have of improvement is a powerful looking Linda Djougang flipping a slick offload at a training camp that costs some of the players money and holidays.

The sport is in desperate need of a long-term overseer not conflicted by being director of rugby of the IRFU sevens programme, which is a natural rival for funding and athletes.

“Definitely, I’d love to be a contracted 15s player,” Beibhinn Parsons, the teenage sensation, told the Her Sport podcast. “That’s all of our goal. To have that opportunity.”

We know that Irish Rugby dances to the beat of their sponsors. Vodafone and Bank of Ireland have moved mountains in the past. Perhaps their female chief executives, Francesca McDonagh and Anne O’Leary, should heed Parsons.

“Some of the girls had to use up all their holidays to make training camps,” said the 19-year-old UCD student. “If there was that professionalism we would not have to make those sacrifices. You see with the English girls...constant game time every weekend and they are becoming these amazing athletes. No stone is left unturned because they have that time to invest into their sport.

“Currently with our squad we have great resources. We have the same facilities as the men and already we’ve seen how beneficial that can be. So, if that was just accelerated, I think Irish rugby women’s rugby would grow hugely.

“I’d love to see a professional approach soon in my career.”

Rugby interviews and abuse

Sonja McLaughlan makes a habit out of delivering a masterclass in the art of the snap interview.

Easily the strongest storyline from this Six Nations weekend was Owen Farrell’s interactions with French referee Pascal Gaüzère. Twitter warriors condemning the abuse suffered by BBC’s exceptional reporter yet in the same breath criticising the way she questioned Farrell serve to show how deep the misogyny still goes in the sport.

“’Toxic, embarrassing, disgraceful, appalling.’ Just some of the feedback I’ve had,” said McLaughlan. “Thanks for using @ sign so it’s all hit home. Now imagine getting inundated with abuse for doing your job. In my car crying. Hope you’re happy.”

Martin Bayfield, for example, would not be subjected to similar grief on BT Sport mainly because he is a former England international. It is also highly unlikely that Bayfield would pursue a tight-lipped interviewee like Farrell in such a rigorous fashion.

McLaughlan set the standard for rugby reportage with a courageous search for the news line when faced by an uncooperative and extremely disappointed England captain. Farrell knew not to blame Gaüzère for the 40-24 defeat in Cardiff because he would only be slaughtered for moaning about two massive calls that led directly to England conceding 14 points. McLaughlan simply asked the vital questions. Farrell refused to abandon the cliché.

If you want wink and nod interviews that deliver superficially interesting banter, the ex-player is the only man for the job. If you want spellbinding television and the pursuit of truth, Sonja McLaughlan is the only person for the job.

Her abusers are ignorant cowards.

Referee Pascal Gauzere awards Wales and Liam Williams a try in their win over England. Photograph: Paul Ellis/Getty/AFP
Referee Pascal Gauzere awards Wales and Liam Williams a try in their win over England. Photograph: Paul Ellis/Getty/AFP

Word of mouth

“.... “ - UCD [provide no comment] when asked if they sought any reference before hiring paedophile John McClean as director of rugby a few months after he admitted in 1996 to molesting another boy.

“Any team I have played against under Franco Smith have tested us - whether it was Treviso or Italy. He seems to be an outstanding coach that gets his team playing and challenging the opposition and I am sure they will learn a lot from today.” - Johnny Sexton pays tribute to the coaching of a team that has lost three matches by a combined total of 38-139.

“At the Ministry of Sports, we have allowed players to travel and also to train under certain conditions. If they don’t explain how it could happen, we can also withdraw this authorisation.” French minister for sport Roxana Maracineanu demands a clear explanation from FFR president Bernard Laporte as to how there has been an outbreak of Covid in France squad.

By the numbers

30 - Six Nations defeats on the trot for Italy.

5 - Maro Itoje individual penalty count against Wales

Mike Catt - contrasting perspectives on the coach

Stuart Barnes knows Mike Catt better than most. They were teammates at Bath in the 1990s. They were similar in their ability to create scores from next to nothing. One became a journalist, the other an attack coach.

“Mike is quite well organised as a coach,” said Barnes on Second Captains last week before offering a direct and stark opinion: “I don’t think he is an original thinker. I think Andy Farrell, possibly, was quite keen to get Mike back as it brought a like mindedness that they had with England.”

The same England that flopped spectacularly at the 2015 World Cup.

“The England management used to talk about how tight they were as a managerial team but sometimes you need creative friction. I do not think that is being offered. There is a sense of déjà vu from this side of the Irish sea.”

Ian McKinley was coached by Catt as recently as 2019, and the former Italy outhalf spoke in glowing terms about the 49-year-old on Virgin Media.

“I have been fortunate to work under Joe Schmidt and Mike Catt. They are two completely different coaches. Joe, if you are one centimetre put of position where you were meant to be you could potentially be dropped. Mike is more free, liberal, he is definitely a players’ coach. You can go to him with ideas and if it is right for the team he will be open to change.”

Murrayfield might be able to settle this debate.

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