Lynne Cantwell calls for improved structures in women’s game

Former star fearful that all the progress Ireland made in heady days will be wasted

Earlier this year World Rugby launched a global “Try and Stop Us” campaign that in their own words would revolutionise women’s rugby.

Figures from the governing body came tumbling out as they cited huge growth in women’s participation to 2.7 million with a 28 per cent increase in registered players since 2017.

In addition World Rugby said that more girls than boys came into the sport for the second year in a row and that more than 40 per cent of rugby’s 400 million fan base were female.

“Women’s rugby is one of sport’s great success stories, experiencing unprecedented growth around the world,” they said.


Given Ireland’s Grand Slam win in the 2013 Six Nations Championship and their defeat of New Zealand in the 2014 World Cup, Ireland should have been moving up with the rising tide. Instead the team came eighth in the final classification of the 2017 World Cup staged in Ireland and have been left behind by England, France, New Zealand and other nations.

Lynne Cantwell, Ireland’s outside centre in the heady days is on the board of Sport Ireland and chairs a committee on women in sport. Her team’s legacy and is now in danger of being squandered.

“I suppose there is a reality that there wasn’t any solid structures in place in rugby at that time and there wasn’t huge  changes made afterwards,” she says diplomatically.

“We’re hopeful that . . . I want to use the success as a platform as opposed to continue to reference the fact that it’s not improved since, that it’s not there yet. We know it’s not there yet.”

Right structures

To compound matters Ireland beat Australia in the Belfield Bowl in their first Pool match and lost to them 24-36 in the 5th-8th playoffs before losing to Wales in the final game. The slide was on. In this year’s Six Nations they were fifth with just one win.

“I think it’s clear that we haven’t got the right structures in place,” she adds. “We haven’t got the right answer to what it takes to enable the 15 to aspire and be competitive. What we were hoping is that the action plan that came out last year was going to be strategic and map towards that success.

“We haven’t seen the results of that yet. To a degree we have to wait and see what that produces. I’ve been in that sport for 17 years and seen a lot of those rotations. I have to be hopeful about it.”

As of now Ireland are ranked 10th in the world with only Scotland of the Six Nations sides below them. Spain are also above Ireland.

“It’s hard to get to four in the world,” she says of Ireland’s ranking high of four. “Therefore you want support from the country to be able to keep you there and keep pushing on.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times