Anthony Eddy, the IRFU’s Director of Women’s and Sevens Rugby, outlines the plans for Women’s rugby this year – one which sees Ireland aiming to qualify for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
When the 2019/20 season kicked off with national camps in August ahead of the extended Women’s Interprovincial Championship, the 13-month journey towards the Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifying tournament in September 2020 was well underway.
The Interpro Championship, allied with an increase in national squad camps and a productive and challenging November programme featuring camps with the Scottish and French and a Test match against Wales, has established another layer of cohesion in the group ahead of the 2020 Women’s Six Nations.
That body of work will stand to the national panel but 2020 will be a season of significant growth for the Women’s programme across a number of areas. The aim is two-fold – produce high level performances at the World Cup qualifying tournament, and broaden the talent pool in the process.
For the Women’s 15s panel the focus is on how we best prepare to perform, which means creating an environment that presents challenges and opportunities which drive performance. At the same time we need to be cognisant of managing players’ workloads so that come September the group are fresh and firing.
The pre-Six Nations phase saw four camps and training games including a trip to the Vale, the WRU’s High Performance Centre. A strong performance was recorded against our Welsh counterparts in a training game. The group will be looking for some consistent performances during the Six Nations and will set ambitious targets during the tournament.
Following the Six Nations, players will return to Energia Women’s All-Ireland League action but will be monitored and managed to ensure they are getting the appropriate recuperation and conditioning to springboard them into a busy and demanding summer programme.
Across the summer programme, the panel will be based at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre at the Sport Ireland Campus. There are two four-day camps in June with two three-day camps in July, ahead of a Test match in mid-July.
Women’s Rugby World Cup Qualifying
Over a two-week period spanning the end of July and the first half of August, the panel will play in a further two Test matches. A fourth Test match is penciled in for the third week in August and then a final three-day camp at the end of August wraps up the pre-Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifying tournament preparation phase.
The first and second WRWC qualifying fixtures take place in earlier September. A three-day camp will bridge the two-week gap between the second and final qualifying fixture at the tail end of September.
There are other vital elements that underpin this programme which are focused on driving development opportunities within the system.
Due to the essential player management programme during the pre-qualification tournament phase, it is unlikely national panel members will participate in the Energia Sevens tournament series which takes place following the completion of the league.
This will provide clubs with an opportunity to develop emerging talent through the Sevens series ahead of the new 2020/21 club season. Similarly, the national panels’ summer programme means that 2020 Interpros will provide opportunity for a host of new players, and those exposures at both senior and Under-18 level will help create a broader talent pool to compete in the new 10-team Energia Women’s All-Ireland League.
The U-18 Interprovincials provided a great platform for emerging talent to be exposed to a higher level of competitive rugby. Building on that success and that of the U-18 Sevens squads that have been competing successfully in Rugby Europe tournaments, we are creating an U-18 Women’s 15s panel which will be involved in a training fixture with their Scottish counterparts in February 2020.
The learning environment template that has proven successful for underage boys teams will be adopted here with the aim of increasing the number of participating Unions in 2021. Ahead of the trip to Scotland, there will be a two-day selection camp followed by a preparation camp.
The Women’s Sevens squad have completed four legs of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series so far competing in Glendale (USA), Dubai, Cape Town and Hamilton (New Zealand). Last weekend the squad were in action again in Sydney. In Dubai, a female development side competed well in the International Invitational tournament with a host of emerging talent getting exposed to a high standard of competitive rugby.
As has been the case for the past number of years, an Ireland Under-18 Sevens squad will compete in Rugby Europe tournaments in 2020. We have seen how these exposures can accelerate the growth in our young players and support the depth chart of both codes.
The IRFU’s Rugby Development team are developing and establishing increased gateways for women to access the game at both 15s and Sevens, and these pathway entry points, allied with the strengthening of the AIL competition and increased and diverse exposures for emerging talent, will underpin the future success of Ireland’s representative teams.
2020 will be a big year for the Women’s game in Ireland and there are significant challenges ahead, but there is also a huge appetite to meet those challenges and drive incremental improvement across the year.