IRFU downgrades women’s coach to part-time role
New candidate will also only be offered a six-month contract
“The decision to return the coaching role to a part-time basis follows feedback from coaches the IRFU has spoken with, and a further decision on the nature of this role will be completed post the 2018 Six Nations.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The next Ireland women’s coach will be a part-timer, covering a full-time remit, with a six month contract all she or he can hope for.
“A kick in the teeth for players,” tweeted Ireland centre Jenny Murphy. “So much progress made by other nations and we take five steps backwards.”
Let’s rewind to December 2014 to explain how the women’s national situation has reached this point. The late appointment of Tom Tierney, just weeks before the Six Nations, was overshadowed because, finally, the first full-time professional coach, in a newly created position, had been confirmed on a three-year deal.
Eddy and Marian Earls, head of strength and conditioning, were also hired on full-time contracts.
“A review of the existing women’s rugby representative structures revealed a need for greater integration of both the 15-a-side and Sevens programmes from both a coaching and player support perspective,” explained Nucifora in late 2014. “We believe we have put in place a strong coaching unit and the appropriate support structures that will enable both versions of the game to drive on in tandem. The establishment of three full-time positions signifies the IRFU’s commitment to creating a high performance environment for Irish representative women’s rugby.”
Ireland, having finished fourth at the World Cup the previous August, captured a second Six Nations title in three seasons. Soon after Dublin and Belfast were announced as joint hosts of the 2017 World Cup.
The revolution seemed unending.
However, instead of building upon some momentous victories, including the 2013 Grand Slam, the 15-aside squad spiralled downwards, as Nucifora made the Sevens programme, partly funded by government grants, the priority.
Three years on, following a disastrous World Cup on home soil, Ireland are ranked ninth in the world, behind Italy and just ahead of Spain, and Tierney has been moved to an undefined assistants role in the men’s national underage structures.
In his place is no one, yet. Downgrading the coach’s position to “part-time/casual” looks unattractive to any serious career coach.
There are mitigating factors. It appears that the IRFU have been unable to entice a suitable candidate so it is hoped the part-time status might tempt an established coach to double job through the Six Nations.
Ireland will play no test matches in November while Six Nations champions England face a touring Canada three times.
The World Cup review, despite revelations of multiple problems, revealed by international prop Ruth O’Reilly in The Irish Times, will not be made public. “Tournament reviews are conducted for internal learnings only,” explained an IRFU spokesman, “this is in line with reviews for all national teams.”
RTÉ still have an agreement with the Six Nations to broadcast the women’s internationals live. The home games will not be switched to Friday night, to go alongside the men’s under-20 games as a preferred Donnybrook double header, as the IRFU believe, due to the women’s amateur status, that players will struggle to get time off work.
Ireland are pencilled in to open their campaign against France in Toulouse (kick off 9pm) on Saturday, February 3rd.
When The Irish Times requested a fuller explanation on the downgrading of the head coaching role, the IRFU responded: “The decision to return the coaching role to a part-time basis follows feedback from coaches the IRFU has spoken with, and a further decision on the nature of this role will be completed post the 2018 Six Nations.”
Who the consulted coaches are, and what they were asked or whether they turned down the role, was not revealed.
“The women’s game in the 15s, we’ve got a lot of work to do in the level beneath international rugby,” said Nucifora recently. “That’s where the work needs to be done.
“You should go and watch the AIL. You saw results like 105-0, that’s not great and that has to be fixed at that level. We have to build that competition where it’s meaningful and sustainable.
“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.
“There is some good work going on in the underage women’s area. The under 18 girls and the sevens, they won the UK Schools Games 7s the other week which is a strong competition. They did pretty well in Europe a couple of weeks ago.
“What England have done is actually smart. They have invested their money back into the club competition. They’re trying to create a club competition that has got substance. They have invested in coaches, which is the key thing. I think that’s not a bad blueprint to try and follow. If we can get the club game right, then things will flow from that.”
Women’s clubs contacted by The Irish Times await similar investment from the IRFU.
In August O’Reilly said: “The guys in the blazers and fancy ties need to decide if women’s rugby is something they are serious about. If not, fine. We will figure out how we manage it ourselves. We will make the most out of it and keep fighting.”