The advances in the women’s game across the world appear to be passing by Irish Women’s Rugby over the last few years.  The IRFU and the general public on this island have had little appetite to really advance the game.

There are plenty of headline grabbing initiatives but, very few actual changes as Ireland Women’s Rugby starts to come up short on the performance and growth targets set last year in the poorly conceived WOMEN IN RUGBY ACTION PLAN 2018 – 2023.

The first two headline targets for the Women’s game have already been missed with Ireland Women XVs fifth place finish in the Six Nations this year and Ireland Women 7s failure to qualify for the 2020 Olympics this month.  I’d guess that the bulk of the growth targets are well behind where they need to be as well, but there are no figures to back that up so it’s pure speculation on my part.

Setting the scene?

Things are even worse in the quiet little backwater of Ulster Women’s Rugby, that most unloved and unsuccessful provincial side, where even the backwash of the advances of the women’s game have created scarcely a ripple in the pool of inaction.

It’s been a disappointing year in the international arena with not a single player from any Ulster Women’s Club gaining international recognition, for the first time ever I believe.

Yes, there were Ulster women’s players in the Ireland Women’s XV squad and the Ireland Women’s 7s squad  but not one of them plies their trade for an Ulster Club, the role of honours gained in 2019 as follows.

Ireland Women XV Ireland Women 7s
Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster) Brittany Hogan (Railway Union/Ulster)
Claire McLaughlin (Old Belvedere/Ulster) Claire Boles (Railway Union/Ulster)
Claire Boles (Railway Union/Ulster) Lucinda Kinghan (Railway Union/Ulster) 

Provincially things are even worse with Ulster Women going into their seventh season without a competitive win, their last win being  on Saturday 5th December 2012 against Connacht in Galway. They recorded a draw against the same opponents the following season but they have lost all their other interprovincial games since, their interprovincial record since 2011 shown below.

Sat 03 Sep 2011 Ulster 3 26 Leinster
Sat 10 Sep 2011 Munster 18 12 Ulster
Sat 17 Sep 2011 Ulster 15 12 Connacht
Sun 02 Dec 2012 Ulster 10 36 Munster
Sat 08 Dec 2012 Leinster 24 20 Ulster
Sat 15 Dec 2012 Connacht 5 18 Ulster
Sat 30 Nov 2013 Ulster 7 41 Leinster
Sun 08 Dec 2013 Munster 15 7 Ulster
Sun 15 Dec 2013 Ulster 0 0 Connacht
Sat 06 Sep 2014 Ulster 0 22 Munster
Sat 13 Sep 2014 Connacht 39 5 Ulster
Sat 20 Sep 2014 Leinster 27 6 Ulster
Sat 22 Aug 2015 Ulster 0 38 Leinster
Sat 29 Aug 2015 Munster 43 0 Ulster
Sat 05 Sep 2015 Ulster 12 15 Connacht
Sat 03 Dec 2016 Ulster 3 16 Munster
Sat 10 Dec 2016 Leinster 46 0 Ulster
Sat 17 Dec 2016 Connacht 39 12 Ulster
Sun 03 Dec 2017 Ulster 10 34 Leinster
Sat 09 Dec 2017 Munster 32 5 Ulster
Sat 16 Dec 2017 Ulster 7 29 Connacht
Fri 31 Aug 2018 Leinster 17 0 Ulster
Sun 09 Sep 2018 Ulster 20 40 Munster
Sat 15 Sep 2018 Connacht 31 17 Ulster

In summary form, their results against the other provinces over the last 8 seasons has been as follows.

Opponents P W L D F A Win %
Leinster 8 0 8 0 46 253 0%
Munster 8 0 8 0 57 222 0%
Connacht 8 2 5 1 86 170 31%
Total 24 2 21 1 189 645 10%

It’s not good reading but it is what it is, however, there is no point in rehashing all the clusterfucks along the way.

It’s the start of a new season and there are some reasons why Ulster Women should look forward with some encouragement.

Improved build up.

The build up to this season’s interpros started at the end of last season with the Rosie Stewart Bowl turned into a competitive trials match between Cooke and the Rest of Ulster. It was far from a classic but it was a good workout and it had the right amount of edge to it.

Better visibility of the season ahead has enabled Ulster to slot in a couple of trials matches with the first kicking off tomorrow.

The players will get another runout against University of British Columbia on Saturday 10th August at Belfast Harlequins, kick off 17:00 before going into the new style interpro series.

New format.

The Women’s Interprovincial series has had a much needed overhaul and the teams will now play five matches, three in a league basis and two knockout games, based on their league standings.

2019 Interprovincial Championship fixtures
Sat 17th August  15:00 Munster  v Ulster Irish Independent Park
Sat 24th August 15:00 Ulster v Leinster City of Armagh RFC
Sat 31st August 15:30 Ulster v Connacht Queen’s Sports Arena

These are followed by the knockout stages

Semi Finals Day: Saturday 14th September. St Mary’s RFC, Dublin – Match 1 (1 v 4), Match 2 (2 v 3 ).

Finals Day: Saturday 21st September. MU Barnhall RFC, Co Kildare – Match 1 (L1 v L2), Match 2 (W1 v W2).

They now have five games to look for that all elusive win in a competition that is going to place more emphasis on squad depth. It should also help the part time coaches, who have had a fleeting three game interest in the past, or two game interest last season, as they will have the chance to test themselves twice against repeat opposition.

Experienced players like, our own award winning photographer, Beth Cregan and the wonderful Lauren Maginnes at Malone must look at these extra games as an opportunity to showcase their skills.

Increased competition.

Cooke have pretty much dominated Ulster representation in recent seasons, the Shawsbridge outfit being the sole representative in the Women’s AIL since 2015-16, when Queen’s made a fleeting appearance. However, there appears to be genuine competition for places this season following Malone’s promotion to the AIL, albeit by the back door of St Mary’s dropping out.

Now, Cooke still dominated the Women’s game in Ulster but didn’t make much of a splash in what was a very poor AIL last season. Some of the player movement that made Malone stronger made Cooke weaker but there was significant young player development both at Cooke and Malone throughout the season.

Irwin, Heatherington and McCormill all had significant seasons at Cooke and Jones and McCord at Malone are the sort of players you can start to build a team around. However they are desperately inexperienced at this level, but, they are all smart enough to improve over five games at that higher level. It’ll be interesting to see how they are used.

In short, there are reasons for Ulster Women to do better this season and they really do need a win.

Will they get it?

We’ll let you know after we’ve had a look at their two warm up matches. 😆


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