The “legacy” wristband campaign, protesting the IRFU’s “lack of respect and ambition” for the women’s game in Ireland, took place on Sunday across all women’s AIL matches.
"This weekend we hope to stand united with our opposition and all women's clubs across the country to highlight the IRFU's lack of respect and ambition for the women's game in Ireland," said a statement from Old Belvedere RFC, supported by other clubs. "The disrespect shown in advertising the role of head coach for the two-time Six Nations champions and previous World Cup semi-finalists speaks volumes for the priority the women's game for the executives in Lansdowne Road."
Anthony Eddy, women's director of rugby, was present at Anglesea Road yesterday to witness the unified stance taken by Old Belvedere and Blackrock College players. However, no attempt was made to communicate with the players, many of whom are Irish internationals.
This follows last Friday’s statement by the IRFU that the women’s national team will get a full-time head coach “if necessary”.
Current and recently retired players are insistent that the World Cup, hosted in UCD and Belfast last August, showed the importance of filling the currently vacant position with a highly qualified, full-time professional coach.
"Six month part-time is such a disappointment to hear when our Six Nations opposition, including Italy, have full time coaches," tweeted Dr Claire Molloy, the Ireland captain, in response to last week's IRFU advertisement for the position. "Left behind. #Legacy," Dr Molloy added.
The player protest was sparked by perceived inaction over recruiting a new coach, despite well-established plans to shift Tom Tierney from the women to the men's Under-20s. Tierney revealed his job with the union was secure at the last press conference following Ireland's disastrous World Cup campaign.
IRFU performance director David Nucifora, who installed Eddy to run the Sevens programme, for both men and women, along with a third role as women's director of rugby, stated recently: "We have to increase the number of coaches, the quality of the number of coaches. We have got to be able to connect the pathways."
The women’s AIL clubs are waiting to hear how this will be done and how much financial support will come from the IRFU. The IRFU claims to be planning a “long term strategy” for women’s rugby. It is unclear who is doing this work as Eddy has two, partly-government funded, Sevens squads to run.
In an attempt to clarify, the IRFU statement expressed “regret at any upset caused” by the release of “part-time/casual, six month contract” job advertisement for the women’s head coaching role. But they also stated: “Contrary to recent comment, the IRFU has not downgraded the coaching role in relation to the Ireland Women’s team.”
Tierney, they said, only held a full-time position because he doubled-up as Eddy’s assistant in the Sevens programme.
The "regret" appears to stem from widespread disappointment expressed by current and former internationals. Jenny Murphy, the Ireland centre at two World Cups, described it as "a kick in the teeth" and "five steps backwards".
The only communication by the union to players, as a collective, since the World Cup was an email asking who was retiring.
The priority, the players hope, between now and the Six Nations opener in Toulouse on February 3rd, is that the IRFU and Nucifora puts the same effort into recruiting a full-time head coach of the women’s national side that they do into securing coaches for the men’s professional game.
The legacy protest is not even seeking equality – the male game is professional, the women’s amateur – but they are demanding that their governing body prove they are serious about protecting the future of the game in Ireland.
If male professional players in Ireland wear the “#legacy” wristbands during next weekend’s interpro games in Galway and Belfast the Irish women will no longer have a protest, they will have a movement.