There was a new development in senior women’s rugby last week, with Railway Union RFC advertising for a Technical Skills Development Coach. 

You can view the job description here.

We caught up with Railway’s Director of Rugby John Cronin last week to find out what their thinking is behind it, with Cronin telling The Front Row Union;

For the new AIL, the IRFU have asked the clubs to implement a High Performance environment with a focus on high-level coaching, athletic development, medical support and analysis to develop players.  The IRFU’s aim is a flagship senior women’s domestic league, which becomes Performance Rugby per the LTPD model with provincial leagues being Participation Rugby.  

In order to implement that, we’ve identified the need for additional skills development sessions.  It’s something I’ve seen work well in the Premiership clubs in England. 

For the coming season, our players training week will have two group pitch sessions, two gym sessions, one skills session and one conditioning session, albeit we’ll probably combine the conditioning and skills session on occasion in order to work on skills and decision making under fatigue. All of these sessions will be with appropriate development programmes, supervised and designed by highly qualified coaches. They’ll also be expected to get an hour of individual position or task-specific skills session done outside of that.

We are competing with teams in England and France and that’s where our benchmark needs to be.  We compete against them at the Six Nations and they are our biggest competition for our players.  If we do not provide a High Performance domestic league in Ireland, we will continue to lose players to England.

This is an interesting move by Railway who have led the way in formalising the development pathway for their players and it appears to be reaping rewards. As well as being reigning champions in the WAIL* and in the sevens they also provided the most players to the Ireland Women’s squad in the recent Six Nations.

As we stated last week in our review of the Women’s Six Nations there has been a gradual increase in the use of Irish players who have gone to England. Our figures showed that the England based players accounted for over 27% of playing time during the Six Nations championship. This is actually more than the players from Railway Union who clocked up 22% of playing time.

The English based players were categorised on the team sheets under the “province” of IQ Rugby, though that is somewhat misleading. The vast bulk of these players were discovered and developed by clubs in Ireland and, with the WAIL receiving minimum support, some of the players moved to England for improved coaching opportunities and others moved due to changes in their circumstances. I know of another handful moving this season for a combination of both reasons.

It’s difficult to say how much of the recent movement is due to the Ireland Women’s program stopping their provincial midweek skills sessions around 2018, when the Ireland Women’s head coach role was downgraded to part time, but there has been a steady increase in players moving to England since then.

The downgrading of the Ireland Women Head Coaching position has had a knock on effect on the availability of high performance coaching with the clubs expected to take up the slack.

In the ideal set up envisioned by the IRFU we would have a WAIL of elite teams all developing players for the international stage. In real money, with 10 sides projected for the WAIL this coming season, that works out as roughly 300 elite players all funneling down to an Ireland squad of 30. It sounds good, it’s similar to what they are doing in England, but where are the players going to come from and while Railway and a few others may be able to meet the demands I expect a fair proportion of the clubs struggling to cope, player wise and financially.

English Women’s Clubs get £80,000 per annum from the RFU, this is ring fenced specifically for the women’s game. AIL clubs get €8,000 none of which is ring fenced and as yet there is no word from the IRFU on any cash uplift to meet these new standards or, indeed, if it is under threat given the current issues.

Even with their advantages and their comparatively huge playing numbers in the women’s game the English clubs have struggled with the competitiveness of their league. This has led them to draw on Elite players from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy, Spain, Canada and US to make up their club sides. Maybe this is the way to go and the Ireland Women’s side would be better served by encouraging more women players to go over to England and France for player development in a high performance setting? That was pretty much how it was handled when the game turned professional in 1996!

If they don’t want to go that route by default then they really need to look at support for the women’s clubs. For Ireland’s club game to move forward teams like Railway will need players of Cliodhna Moloney’s calibre returning to the fold at some stage.

The argument will be raised that all the money that comes into the game comes through the men’s team. This is true, the Irish Men’s side is the only profit making team in the IRFU. The profits from the men’s national side are used to support the provinces and the clubs throughout the island, this is it’s sole aim. However approximately 20-30% of the IRFU’s total income comes from women supporters on the terrace, buying kit, paying broadcast subscriptions etc. and less than 2-3% goes out to the women’s programme.

One quick way the IRFU could help immediately is in their international ticket allocations. A men’s AIL D1 club get upwards of 400 international tickets to help boost their coffers whereas a women’s AIL D1 club gets 5. Hmm!

Sponsorship of the women’s game is another major problem with minimal amounts trickling down to the individual clubs. Extra tickets to the women’s clubs, with appropriate controls, would give the clubs a meaningful slice of the corporate pie.

Outside of the virtue signaling that dominates social media when women’s rugby hits the headlines I really struggle to see genuine support for the women’s sides other than, those extremely valuable, team sponsors at club level who look at it as an altruistic investment.

This disparity in funding and support is a major cause for concern. The way it is set up at the minute it is easy to see why high ranking women’s teams become unsustainable as their costs of competing continue to rise disproportionately to their funding. It’ll be interesting to see if all ten sides make it to the starting gate, or the finishing line, of the all new WAIL?

The way it’s going the the next Ireland Women’s Camp will be held in London!

Agree, disagree? Let us know in the poll below or leave a comment further down the page.

IRFU Support of the Women’s Game

This poll has been finished and no longer available to vote !

* Our friends in UL Bohemian would not forgive us if we didn’t point out that they were favourites to win the WAIL this season if it had progressed as normal, though Railway, Belvo and Rock would probably have something to say about that!


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