Stephen Hilditch, President of the Irish Rugby Football Union, reflects on a momentous year for Irish Rugby and looks forward to a busy 2017.
I am delighted as President of the Irish Rugby Football Union to wish our ever expanding rugby fraternity a very Happy Christmas and a safe and peaceful New Year.
Christmas time traditionally marks the halfway juncture of the season and at this festive time I believe we can all share in the celebrations of so many wonderful events of the first half of the season – and be equally fulfilled with optimism for the chock-full and engaging fixtures calendar of 2017.
All the indications are that the New Year will herald a bumper second half of the season across all levels of our game. And on behalf of my IRFU Committee colleagues, I commend our Union and Branch professional staffs, our legion of volunteers, our loyal sponsors and our vast numbers of passionate supporters. I assure you that your collective contributions are greatly appreciated.
If lingering echoes of the heady exploits of our heroic Ireland men’s team in the memorable month of November whet our appetites for 2017, the hosting of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Dublin and Belfast in August is a further occasion of immense appeal. Its historic staging has the added significance of allowing the IRFU – and Irish rugby fans – the chance to showcase its collective resource and combine successfully in staging an immense global tournament, vis-a-vis the IRFU’s formal bid to stage Rugby World Cup 2023.
All the while, the upcoming New Year has so much else to appeal. With France and England as visitors in February and March, the Six Nations men’s, women’s and Under-20 Championships command particular interest.
Also in store is our two-Test men’s tour to Japan in June, the Lions tour to New Zealand in June and July, Ireland’s participation in the World Rugby Under-20 championship in Georgia, also in June, and the ongoing commitments of our men’s and women’s Sevens teams in various global competitions. Then, in November, we have another fascinating GUINNESS Series at the Aviva Stadium, including games against South Africa and Argentina.
Meantime, our provincial teams remain resolute in their European Champions Cup ambitions and the fact that the GUINNESS PRO12 final will be played at the Aviva Stadium in May is positively an added incentive.
Of course, an enduring highlight of the second half of the season will be the outcome of the many club and grassroots competitions.
These innumerable fixtures across the schools, clubs, third level, women’s, under-age and community programme sections of our game (with a significant helping hand from our devoted referees), are the very lifeblood of Irish Rugby. I assure you that will always be safe guarded by the IRFU, whose policy is to preserve the club scene as a strong and vibrant force.
To everyone in the Irish rugby family, I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a safe and enjoyable New Year.