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'Disappointing' - IRFU hit back after 62 players sign scathing letter of complaint

By Ian Cameron
PA

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The IRFU have hit back at a group of over 60 women’s players who have penned a withering letter to the Irish government, complaining about the national union.

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Irish sports’ website The42.ie broke the story earlier today and report that the group of current and high profile former players have voiced their concern at how the women’s programme has been managed by the union.

The group have requested that the Irish government act as in an oversight capacity in relation to two independent reviews into the women’s game that are currently taking place.

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They said that the women’s side of the game had undergone “multiple cycles of substandard commitment from the union” and that the Dublin-based union had provided “inequitable and untrustworthy leadership”.

The group said they had lost “all trust and confidence in the IRFU”.

The women’s national team failed to qualify for the 2021 Rugby World Cup – a result that shocked the wider rugby community given Ireland’s status as Tier 1 rugby nation.

The IRFU has appointed former Welsh international Amanda Bennett as an independent consultant to conduct an review into the “preparation, participation and performance” of the Ireland Women’s XV during the failed RWC 2021 qualifying campaign.

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In October the IRFU said that the ‘overarching aim will be to learn from any issues that led to Ireland failing to qualify and to identify areas of improvement that will support future international campaigns. This review is scheduled to take eight-nine weeks.’

A second review, titled the ‘Women in Rugby Action Plan’ review, will be completed in early 2022.

The IRFU have today described the letter which was signed by the 62 players as ‘disappointing’.

A statement reads: “The IRFU is aware of a letter sent to the Minister for Sport re Irish Women’s Rugby and refutes the overall tenor of the document which questions the IRFU’s commitment to, and leadership of, the women’s game in Ireland.

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“It is disappointing that this group should chose [sic] now to come out with a series of allegations, given all involved in Irish Rugby are fully aware that two well resourced, independent reviews are in train and it is from these reviews that lessons, based on fact, can be learned and the foundations built which will serve the women’s game well for future generations.

“The IRFU is fully committed to the development of the women’s game based on a sustainable structure, from grassroots up to international level. This is evident from the level of absolute commitment already in place by volunteers in clubs throughout the country, the IRFU rugby development team who are working tirelessly to bring the game to ever widening playing audiences and the committee who have sanctioned ever increasing budgets in support of the women’s game.

“The responsible approach would be to allow these reviews progress and conclude their work independently, without attempts to influence their work through outside interference.

“For the benefit of those who may not be aware and to balance, in some way, the opinions promoted in this recent letter it is important to reiterate that the IRFU has already publicly announced and set in train an independent review into, what was for all in Irish Rugby, players, team management, IRFU committee and executives, the hugely disappointing failure of our women’s senior international team to qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2023.

Women's Rugby World Cup
A disappointed Anna Caplice of Ireland at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup (Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

“It is important that the integrity and independence of this review, which includes feedback from players, is not compromised in any way. The Union is already publicly committed to relying on the findings of that report as it plots future campaigns.”

“They go on to say that all ‘understand the importance of the international game in this matrix but of equal importance is the development of a structure for the long-term growth of the game at grassroots around club players and young girls coming into the game for the first time.”

In November the IRFU said that they “100 per cent behind” the women’s game and committed to addressing “whatever issues there are”, according to outgoing chief executive Philip Browne.

Browne, who is set to retire from his role at the end of December, insists he wants to see the findings of the two independent reviews before discussing the situation in any detail.

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