Who’s in charge of Irish women’s rugby? It’s a core question
The lack of someone running the domestic game is stymieing progress, say sources
Ireland head coach Adam Griggs with squad members at the Ireland Women v France Women Six Nations game in Energia Park, Donnybrook, Dublin, last Saturday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Irish head coach Adam Griggs was unable to say who is in charge of women’s rugby in Ireland. Griggs, an IRFU employee, and a highly regarded coach in the Sevens programme, was asked the question ahead of Saturday’s final Six Nations match against Italy.
“It would be people above me in the IRFU,” said Griggs, speaking in the wake of Ireland’s 56-15 defeat to France at Energia Park last weekend.
The lack of someone specifically running the women’s domestic game in Ireland appears to be the core issue stymieing progress, several sources have informed The Irish Times .
It is not controlled by the professional arm under David Nucifora or his director of women’s rugby Anthony Eddy, so perhaps it falls under the remit of the community game, where Collie McEntee is director of rugby development.
“I couldn’t tell you,” said Griggs. “I couldn’t tell you.”
Griggs was asked if it worries him, as Ireland head coach, that he does not know who is running the domestic game at this vital moment in time?
“Well, I know that we are running it as a body but you are looking for names and I am unable to give you names of who is running it.
“I am here to do my job and select a team and prepare them to play a Six Nations competition this week and that is what I am concentrating on.”
The IRFU women’s committee, chaired by Mary Quinn, has no representative from the 10 All-Ireland League (AIL) clubs – Blackrock, Ballincollig, Cooke, Galwegians, Malone, Old Belvedere, Railway Union, Suttonians, Ul Bohemians, Wicklow RFC – that produce almost all the current and future internationals.
Eddy, the director of women’s rugby in Ireland, does not sit on the women’s committee.
“Before Covid – and I would hope we are planning the same thing – we had expanded the AIL to 10 teams,” said Griggs. “Having that as a competitive competition will also drive the interprovincial series.
“That is another spot we should drive home as well; ultimately, our interprovincial series is at a level [comparable to] Saracens and Harlequins as you can see that level of competition is driving their international team.
“I don’t run those competitions or organise them but, at the same time, I do believe that both those sides of it, the AIL into an interprovincial series, will help us select players that are of a competitive nature and are ready to step up into the international scene.”
Is the club competition in Ireland at a good enough standard in order to drive international competition?
Further concerns around women’s rugby in Ireland being adequately structured, in order to compete with leading countries like France and England, were highlighted by Lynne Cantwell on RTÉ’s Against the Head on Monday night.
“I think it is important to recognise that the women’s and men’s game are different so let’s not try and do the same thing because I think we will fail,” said Cantwell, Ireland’s most-capped female who currently runs South African Rugby’s female high-performance unit.
“Is the club competition in Ireland at a good enough standard in order to drive international competition? Are we leveraging our interprovincials to play at a higher standard? Like, are [the provinces] going over to France to play Lyon or going over to England to play Sarries?
“We are just not doing that.
“Competition drives performance, fundamentally,” Cantwell added, “and I don’t think we got the standard of competition in Ireland at a domestic level that will drive performance at an international level.”
In December 2019 Leinster did play Harlequins in a one-off game at Twickenham, losing 47-26 in front 7,500 spectators. Several members of the current Ireland squad, like Claire Molloy at Wasps and Lauren Delany at Bristol, play in the Allianz Premier 15s.
“The structures are certainly in place – we just need to keep building on them,” said Griggs. “Whether we get to professionalism with this team, you got to have that underbelly that supports it.”
Griggs does hope that the game will have turned professional in Ireland by the time Béibhinn Parsons (19) and Dorothy Wall (20) reach the end of their international careers.
“Yeah, I hope so. That’s the way the game is going, isn’t it? You got England, France, New Zealand leading the way.
“If we are taking it seriously, which I know we are, that has to develop. Obviously, there are plenty of things to get through in terms of structures, which will take time, but once we get that right there is no reasons why we won’t see the likes of those players turn professional.”