IRFU says report into Ireland women’s rugby will not be made public

Independent review follows Irish team’s failure to qualify for World Cup

Ireland players dejected after defeat in their World Cup qualifying game against Scotland in Parma on September 25th. Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho

Ireland players dejected after defeat in their World Cup qualifying game against Scotland in Parma on September 25th. Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho

 

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne anticipates that the review into the failure of the Ireland women’s team to qualify for the World Cup will be completed by Christmas but has confirmed that the union will not, as is its practice, make the report public.

The independent review, which follows the Irish team’s defeats by Spain and Scotland in the World Cup qualifying tournament in Parma in September, is being led by former Wales international Amanda Bennett of FairPlay consultancy, along with Kevin Barry, a former international coach, and Helen Phillips, who’s been in high performance in the Commonwealth Games and other sports.

“We don’t make the reports available and we haven’t done that in the past with the men’s game either,” said Browne.

“What we will do is make the key findings available. People undertake contributions to reviews like this on the basis of anonymity and we have to respect that. The key issue here is what are the key findings and what are the key recommendations and then it is up to the union to work out how do they actually deliver on that.”

Even issuing a report without naming anyone individually is not an option, said Browne, who cited the leakage of England’s report into their 2015 World Cup campaign as hosts and the resulting “absolute mayhem and terrible embarrassment for a number of individuals”.

Browne said there would invariably be an overlap into another review into the women’s game, namely the implementation of the 2018-2023 Women in Rugby Action Plan. The action plan targeted a Six Nations title before 2023, qualification for the 2021 World Cup, qualification for the Olympic sevens, and consistent top-six finishes on the World Rugby Sevens Series – aspirational goals lacking in detail and which have thus far not been reached.

Steady decline

The Irish women’s game has been in steady decline – or at any rate stagnation – since the highs of 2013-2015, when a Grand Slam and Six Nations title sandwiched a World Cup semi-final.

Last week Anthony Eddy, who has been in charge of the women’s and sevens programme since 2014, brought attention on himself and his own role in this time after maintaining Ireland’s structures and programmes weren’t the cause of Ireland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, rather that these things are cyclical and the faults lay entirely with the players.

Browne declined to clarify whether the review would examine Eddy’s role.

“The review will look at the entirety of the women’s national team programme and it will look at the entirety of the sevens group. Both reviews are going to lead into each other to be quite honest with you, and the way in which the game is structured and managed will form part and parcel of the review.”

The decline has also come under the watch of high performance director David Nucifora. The development of elite referees also falls under his extensive remit, and neither have been a glittering success, while Nucifora is unpopular in Leinster especially and the clubs. After they rejected his plan to restructure the All-Ireland League (AIL), Nucifora had provincial A squads, drawn heavily from the clubs, play one-off games in the USA as the league was coming to a conclusion.

But Nucifora has apparently been offered another new contract.

“He [Nucifora] reports to me and he reports to the NPGB,” said Browne in reference to the National Professional Game Board, a group of about 10 people chaired by Tony O’Beirne which features, among others, the former Irish team manager Mick Kearney, Gary Bennett, Eoin Reddan as a players’ representative and Nancy Chillingworth.

“The NPGB, myself and the management committee decide whether his contract is extended or not,” added Browne.

Historical base

Women’s rugby has nothing like the historical base in schools and clubs which by comparison, say, women’s hockey has had, and it is Browne’s own “personal view” that “we need to get the structures right, particularly in the club game, and get the pathways right. That’s actually where a huge amount of effort is ongoing at the moment. If we get that right and we can start to get a clear pathway for girls who want to rise through from mini-rugby through to the international game then you have to have a clear pathway available to them.

“That’s the bit that we are having difficulty with so it will be interesting to see what Amanda comes back with. That will require conversations with people in the clubs, the provinces and the high-performance unit and rugby department in the IRFU. And indeed with the players and coaches. It will be a wide-ranging report.”

Many in the men’s club game feel equally cast adrift by the IRFU, but Browne cited the €4 million subsidy given to them, as against the €27 million for the provinces, as evidence to the contrary, even if this was direct funding from the Government.

“I think we are doing our damndest, in many respects. We are pretty hopeful that the Government will provide further funding. We have made submissions and we are waiting to hear back from that. I would imagine part of that will be funding for the club game. It is important for us that the club game should be in a healthy financial and sustainable position.

“In many respects, Covid has changed the way a lot of organisations do their business. Our engagement with the clubs is, curiously, probably better as a result.”

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