The IRFU has received and formally accepted all recommendations in the independent review from Amanda Bennett, of FairPlay Ltd., commissioned in October 2021 by the IRFU Management Committee following the failure to qualify for Rugby World Cup ‘21.
The Union today announced an additional circa €1million investment in the women’s game, growing the annual budget to circa €4million, and the creation of a new role of Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways and a full-time Women’s XVs National Team Programme Manager, as it has published all 30 recommendations contained in the review. Implementation of the recommendations has already commenced, and a detailed plan is currently being finalised to action each of the recommendations. The implementation plan will involve briefings with the players as it is progressed.
The IRFU has held a series of meetings with representatives of the players and with Sport Ireland to discuss the review. All parties are satisfied with the outcome and have committed to working collectively to action the recommendations. Earlier today Amanda Bennett held a briefing session on the review’s recommendations with the players involved with the WRWC ’21 qualification process, some of whom were signatories of the December 2021 players’ letter to Ministers Catherine Martin and Jack Chambers.
The independent review is based on the outcome of interviews with players, high-performance and performance programme staff, amongst others. The recommendations, all of which can be read here, focused on Performance, Leadership and Culture, Coaching and Support, Operations and Logistics and Resourcing.
Following discussions with FairPlay Ltd. and the IRFU’s external legal counsel, the IRFU was unequivocally advised that publication of the full report could be seen as a breach of confidentiality for those who participated in it. This view is understood by the players’ representatives who are satisfied the requests they made throughout discussions have been met. Consequently, today’s publication is focussed on the recommendations, as per the terms of reference agreed when this work was commissioned This decision is understood and accepted by Sport Ireland and Ministers Martin and Chambers.
A Summary Status Report on the Implementation of the Independent Review Recommendations, which details progress made, to-date, on the recommendations is available here.
IRFU Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Potts, said: “Rugby is a values-based sport and the IRFU is a values-based organisation. Our vision for Irish Rugby, as set out in our Strategic Plan 2018 – 2023, is based on ‘Building success together’. We have fallen short of this aspiration in our women’s game. However, we are committed to putting this right and we regard the recommendations of this independent review as a solid basis from which to reignite the long-term development of women’s rugby in Ireland.
“The announcement of these recommendations is just one milestone on a journey that has already commenced, with the work undertaken over the past number of months now beginning to yield visible results. As part of the entire process, we have listened directly to the player’s concerns, and we understand their desire to see changes implemented that will address the issues which contributed to the failure to qualify for the Rugby World Cup and to further develop the women’s game and lay strong foundations and pathways for success in the future. Indeed, we strongly share this desire. This independent review was commissioned to identify reasons for failure to qualify for the Rugby World Cup, areas for improvement and to inform meaningful action. We accept the recommendations in full; we are already acting upon them, many are already in place, and we believe that the implementation of the recommendations will form the basis of genuine long-term progress at the top end of our women’s game.
“In December the IRFU made a commitment, in good faith, to publish this independent review in full. However, while the recommendations in Amanda Bennett’s thorough review are being published today, we are not in a position to publish the review in full.
“I appreciate that this may require further explanation. The confidential nature of participants’ contributions and commitments made by the panel to those who participated; players, coaches, volunteers, and staff, must be respected and I intend to do so. This decision is understood by the players’ representative group, Sport Ireland and by the Ministers.
“This was an independent review. Players, coaches, and staff contributed feedback openly and honestly as part of a collective effort to analyse the reasons for the failure to qualify for the World Cup and, more importantly, to identify solutions to address them. I thank them for their participation and for their ongoing commitment to the often-difficult path of continual improvement demanded in a high-performance culture.
“The 30 recommendations published today are detailed and are testament to the robust feedback provided. They have formed the basis for a series of constructive briefings which have been held with the players, with representatives of the player group who wrote to the Minister, with Sport Ireland and with the Department of Sport.
“We have already agreed a number of actions informed by the review and are taking additional steps over and above those outlined in the report, to support the Women’s game. Today we are announcing two major appointments: firstly, the immediate recruitment of a full time Women’s XV National Team Programme Manager and, secondly, the recruitment of a new Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways position to oversee the Women’s XVs and Sevens Performance Pathways and teams. The performance role will be advertised in the coming days. We will provide further updates in due course.
“For me, this was, first and foremost, about listening to the player group and understanding their concerns. It was also important to ensure that the players had faith in the process and in our desire to work collaboratively. I have already had several meetings with representatives of the player group and have formally apologised to them on behalf of the IRFU.
“While we have much to improve on, the Independent Review did highlight the exceptional effort and dedication of players and members of the performance team. It is important I acknowledge this commitment and thank them.
“I want to thank Amanda Bennett and her Independent Panel for this work and to apologise to players who have felt let down or not respected. To them, I say: we will do better, we will do what is right for women in our game, because it is the right thing to do.
“With the assistance of Amanda Bennett, under the Chairmanship of IRFU Senior Vice-President John Robinson, we have begun the wider review into the strategic direction of our women’s game, which will be completed in the months ahead. This work is a matter of the highest priority for the IRFU committee and the executive team.
“The players asked the IRFU for changes that will have a long-term positive impact on the Women’s International Teams into the future. I believe what we have announced today provides a strong starting point, underpinned as it is by the IRFU’s commitment to c €1milion in additional resourcing to implement these recommendations. Most importantly of all, I want to assure all aspiring women’s players that they have the full support of the IRFU to achieve their ambitions.
“Finally, as the countdown for this season’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations Championship begins let me wish Greg McWilliams, Niamh Briggs, their management team and all the players who will attend this weekend’s opening squad session every good luck in their campaign and assure them of the full support of the IRFU.”