The Offload: Women’s rugby in Ireland needs protecting more than ever.

The Offload: Women’s rugby in Ireland needs protecting more than ever.

The women’s game has always been way, way down the list of priorities at the IRFU and the current financial crisis gives them plenty of scope to keep it that way.

Female rugby in Ireland needs protecting now more than ever. Plans are in place for an expanded All-Ireland League. But plans no longer carry much weight. Take the stalled qualifying tournament to reach next year’s World Cup in New Zealand. Plans for the Six Nations are also up in the air.

On June 10th the IRFU wrote to clubs with female teams to confirm that a newly formatted AIL will happen this season. It is still listed as “eight to 10” sides with no relegation for two seasons and the promise of “increased funding” for clubs that participate.

Sounds like a plan – until we read the rest of the letter signed off by Collie McEntee, the IRFU’s director of rugby development. There was a “sustainable clubs health check” form attached to “evaluate a club’s current or aspirational participation in women’s rugby.” Fair enough, better find out which clubs can gather a squad. “The IRFU is committed to driving sustainability and growth in the female game in Ireland,” the letter added without providing any guidance on how this might be done.

The lack of genuine female representation in the decision-making process remains a major barrier blocking progress. That means tapping into the vast knowledge of recently retired players who understand what is needed.

Mary Quinn’s IRFU women’s committee met last week. People on the ground await any sign of leadership from Quinn. We’ve seen none since she became the first female appointed to the IRFU executive in 2015.

Most people seem to agree the way forward is a vibrant club scene rather than mimicking the men’s provincial system. Old Belvedere – a pillar of women’s rugby in Ireland – are currently seeking a new head coach. That appointment alone will provide an indication of the AIL’s wellbeing.

More information: THE IRISH TIMES.