The Irish Women’s rugby team lifted the Six Nations trophy after destroying Scotland on the final day of a thrilling tournament, yet the cameras and spotlight of the sporting world were fixated on the Irish Men’s Six Nations victory in Murrayfield. The 73 – 3 annihilation of Scotland by the Irish ladies received only a footnote in the media coverage compared to the headlines of the men’s triumph.
Women’s rugby in Ireland has witnessed a remarkable awakening out from the shadow of the Men’s game. Ever since the team shot to prominence in the women’s game winning a historic premier Grand Slam title in 2013, the sport has gone from strength to strength. The team captain, Niamh Briggs who has lead the ladies over the past two years was again at the helm at this Six Nations. As was the now prolific try scorer Allison Miller, who finished off a hat trick of tries from the wing against Scotland. Forward Sophie Spence, and the dynamic centre Jenny Murphy are two new stars who blooded themselves in this successful Six Nations campaign.
Undisputedly the final day of the Men’s Tournament was a rugby spectacle for the ages, with Wales, England and Ireland all vying for the title in a dramatic and tense final day of all-out attacking rugby. In comparison, the Irish ladies conquest of the lacking Scottish side was an open and shut affair. Yet apart from the final day the Mens games came under criticism for their closed and boring styles of play, with Schmidt’s Irish team in particular taking flack for his controlled and defensive kicking-based game plan. In contrast the ladies games were all much more open and entertaining affairs. The Irish Women’s campaign had an exciting and attacking narrative from day one. First beating Italy, then suffering a narrow defeat to France, before a revival to best the old nemesis England by 11 – 8, and then hammer Wales by 20 points to 0. The argument therefore that the girls in green cannot play quality entertaining rugby – simply doesn’t hold up.
The Men’s game however still dominates the scrum in terms of screen time and media coverage, despite some recent inroads into bringing the Women’s game to a wider audience. RTE this year broadcasted a number of the Women’s Six Nations games live and in-full during prime time viewing slots. Other national newspapers and media outlets have begun to devote an increasing amount of space and coverage to reports from the women’s games. It is clear that women’s rugby is slowly beginning to be given the respect off the pitch from the media that it has come to command on the pitch.
The biggest obstacle for the growing game then does not seem to be the limited yet improving media coverage. The most serious problem appears to be the absence of any positive support or respect show by the IRFU. The ladies team are still pigeon-holed by the IRFU to play their home games in the small, standlesss and less than accessible grounds of the Ashbourne RFC in Meath. Where during this Six Nations tournament the floodlights malfunctioned twice against France, somewhat symbolically leaving the women’s match in the dark. It should be noted that even schoolboy rugby is given a bigger stage to perform than this, with the Leinster Senior Cup Final being hosted in Donnybrook stadium. The English Women’s team played their final Six Nations game after their male counterparts on the same pitch at Twickenham.
Irish Women’s rugby deserves to play and promote its game in a major stadium – be that any of the provincial clubs stadia, or even the Aviva itself for big matches. It is time for the IRFU to give its backing and institutional support to women’s rugby, so it can continue to progress. The Union must now play their part in the line out, and do all they can to help lift the women’s game to new heights.
(Photo credit: Irishsport.ie