Limerick favourite to host 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup

Current event reaching record viewers but concerns remain over assistant referees

Limerick is the favourite city to host the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017. Having expressed interest in bringing the 2023 men’s tournament to Ireland, the IRFU is expected to be part of the tender process for the IRB’s female equivalent.

“There have been some conversations,” said Philippe Bourdarias, director of the current women’s event. “We know them very well. We are based in Dublin but nothing formal has happened yet. But we know there is an interest.”

Thomond Park, with the backdrop of the University of Limerick, would arguably be an improvement on the tournament in Marcoussis.

The Aviva Stadium in Dublin, supported by the RDS – and even Donnybrook – may yet trump that idea. A newly-refurbished Ravenhill and the city of Belfast would also be a consideration. Either way, it is something the IRB is more than amenable to when inviting tenders before the end of this year.


Bourdarias said Ireland “tick a lot of boxes. It depends on the project. If they come with an ambitious project. But I think they would have a strong bid because they have a lot in common with France. We would welcome a bid if they go for it.”

At the mid-point of the current tournament, which switches from Marcoussis to the Stade Jean Bouin in Paris for Wednesday's semi-finals and Sunday's final, an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses is worthwhile.


A positive is that terrestrial French television reached a record 1.5 million viewers last Tuesday for France v South Africa. However, ineptitude by touch judges – rather than by referees – has been a recurring problem.

The inability of the assistant referees to make basic calls, especially missing a stonewall penalty try in the Ireland v New Zealand game, has been glaring.

“If we want to develop the game we have to we have develop women referees,” said Bourdarias. “The best way to do that is to give them top matches.”

Again, this is not a criticism of the referees, more the lack of qualified support they have had from the line. “If you start saying we are going to take the best you would take only men. Why? Because men have more exposure. There are more programmes for male referees.

“The critics I have heard in the media about these referees, in my opinion, are unfounded. When a man makes a mistake people complain. When a woman makes a mistake people say, ‘Oh, she’s not a man.’ ”

In fact, the criticism has come from several female voices, and not of the referees but of the support structures, mainly the touch judges.

Alison Donnelly, who created, flagged this problem before the tournament. "The game needs the very best officiating at the highest level. The IRB's promotion of female referees is admirable but top games like Six Nations deciders and World Cup finals should have the best referee, not simply the best female referee," she wrote in Rugby World magazine.

Bourdarias responded: “We are here for a World Cup so we have the top women’s referees but we are also here to develop the game so that’s why it is very important we develop referees.

"If you say we will get only the Nigel Owens, Romain Poite etc. Okay, but you won't develop women's referees and this will be a limitation for the women's game."

That, however, isn’t the view of coaches at this tournament.

“We are on a mission to develop the game,” Bourdarias added. “The IRB is pushing to develop the game . . . We’re really pushing and putting money in. So we need to give match time to women referees.”

Will there be any male officials added before the semi-finals and final?


Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent