IRFU’s progressive action plan targets one in five quota for women

By Simon Lewis
Rugby and Golf Correspondent

When the IRFU established an independent review group to evaluate the women’s game in Ireland and formulate a strategy to take it into the next five years, it had more than just the success of the national team in mind.

The Women in Rugby Action Plan 2018-2023, published today, has ambitious objectives, not just at the high-performance level but on each rung of the ladder from grassroots up in order to grow the game and get more females involved in the sport, both in the women’s and men’s leadership structures.

After years of paying lip service to the women, the IRFU has committed to the aim of rugby being a sport of equal opportunity and access for all, to optimise the quality of experience provided for female age-grade rugby players and “drive a performance system that demands and supports development and competitive excellence”.

Its fourth main strategic objective is to increase female participation to 20% or more of the total numbers (male and female) currently involved in the Irish game, i.e. at least one in five — including players, coaches and referees, volunteers and committee members — should be women.

The Women in Rugby Action Plan is the culmination of a 12-month undertaking primarily by independent review group co-chairs Mary Quinn and Su Carty. They have set the IRFU the mission of increasing adult female player participation from its current level of 1,341 active players, who play more than six games a season, to 5,000; youth players from 2,500 to 6,500, and to raise the number of women’s and girls’ teams from 190 to more than 300.

The non-playing numbers are also targeted with a call for female coaches to increase from 179 at present to more than 450, referees from 12 to more than 80.

By increasing participation numbers, Quinn, an IRFU Union Committee member, believes a strong base can only help to improve the competitiveness of the national teams.

We aim to create a structured pathway which attracts young female players to club rugby,” Quinn said, “where they can progress their rugby careers through Under-14, U16 and U18 levels towards the women’s senior game.

“In schools, we are committed to creating opportunities for female students to experience rugby through an XRugby 7s and Sevens pathway.

“Increased participation through a quality player-development pathway that enables players to achieve their full potential. This, in turn, will support an increased flow of talent through the Women’s AIL and provincial panels into national squads.”

Mary Quinn

It was the disappointing return from the Ireland XVs side at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, and the fallout from failing to reach the knockout stages on home soil. which prompted the independent review in the first place, although the national team did tick many of the boxes laid out in the 2013-18 Strategic Plan, winning the Women’s 6 Nations title in 2015, a year after reaching the World Cup semi-finals, while the Ireland Women’s Sevens finished sixth at the World Rugby Sevens World Cup this year.

The performance targets headlined in today’s Women In Rugby Action Plan for 2018-2023 set the bar higher again. For the Ireland XVs, the objectives are to win at least one Six Nations title and finish in the top three in the other years as well as qualifying for and then finishing in the top six at the 2021 World Cup.

For the Ireland Sevens team, which has led the way for the women’s game in Ireland in the last two years, qualification for the 2020 Olympics and 2022 Sevens World Cup is the target while having reached the promised land of the 7s World Series, the aim now is to win two tournaments in the next five seasons and be consistent top six finishers, as they were in claiming sixth place at the weekend in the 2018-19 opener in the United States.

Writing targets down on paper is one thing, delivering in reality quite another and the IRFU has set up a Women’s Rugby Advisory Group to monitor and implement the new strategic plan.

Quinn, chair of the IRFU’s Women’s Sub Committee, and Carty, the organisation’s World Rugby representative, are hopeful it will be doing more than just meeting the minimum twice a year.

It’s going to be chaired by the senior vice-president from time to time, who happens to be Nicholas Comyn, then Philip Browne, myself, Su Carty and we’re also looking into a former international player,” Quinn said of the group’s membership.

“If you sat once every six months and did absolutely nothing in between, you’d be pretty useless. We will be getting and seeking information right across the game in all departments to make sure this is actually happening. We can’t wait sitting on our seats twice a year.”

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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