by Frank Schnittger
Fri Aug 18th, 2017 at 05:07:18 PM EST
The Women's Rugby World Cup is taking place in Ireland at the moment with the initial group stages just completed in Dublin, and the ranking matches, Semi Finals and Finals scheduled for Belfast over the next week. England, with a semi-professional squad, are the holders and favourites, but France have also been investing in their squad, New Zealand are always strong, and the USA have been improving rapidly.
Women's international rugby is an emerging sport with participation, funding and standards improving rapidly from a very low base. Standards are as yet very uneven around the world with many very one-sided encounters in this world cup, the worst of which was a 121-0 drubbing of Hong Kong by New Zealand.
Ireland won the Women's Six Nations Championship with a grand slam in 2013 and again in 2015 and finished fourth in the 2014 Women's world Cup but have struggled to beat Australia and Japan in their first two matches this time around. They have just lost to France 21-5 in a very good match watched by over three million people on TV in France alone.
This has led to some criticism of the lack of funding by the Irish Rugby Football Union of the all-amateur Irish team. Gavin Cummiskey has a hit piece up at the Irish Times saying "Badly coached, the wonder is were Ireland badly handled as well? We cannot possibly know. On Tierney's watch, access to this special group of Irish rugby players has been airtight".
Could it be sour grapes on the part of a journalist denied access to players? Could it be a male journalist reluctant to criticise female players and having a go at the male coach instead? We certainly went into a the game with a game plan based on an allegedly superior set piece which fell apart when that superiority failed to materialise. We also didn't trust our backs to be able to outrun the French backs, and so relied inordinately on one-out runners in the forwards. However on the few occasions when we did try to run the ball out in the wider channels we made limited progress.
It was clear in the first few minutes that France had far superior players, particularly in the backs and back row, and that a game Irish team were struggling to keep up. Other than not having a plan for how to deal with the French not competing on Irish line-outs or engaging with Irish mauls, it's not clear that any coaching game plan would have led to a different outcome.
While this Ireland team has had considerable success in the past, it seems clear that standards in women's rugby are improving rapidly, with the English and French approaching semi-professional status. What was good enough three years ago is no longer good enough now. Either we invest more in the women's game or we will struggle to compete at the top level. With over three million people watching the match on TV in France alone, it seems clear that the game will over-take us if we don't invest more in the women's game in the future.