WHAT a time to be an Irish rugby fan!
Johnny Sexton becomes the Six Nations all-time points scorer. Josh Van Der Flier, former World Rugby Player of the Year wins 50 international caps. The men’s senior team beat England and the U20s did the same.
Two Triple Crown titles, two Six Nations Championships, and, best of all, two Grand Slams.
Now, it’s time for a third. Right? The women have as good a chance as anyone, right?
This Saturday the Women’s Six Nations kicks off with Ireland away to Wales in Cardiff. However, fans fleeting across from the men’s game may have to alter their expectations slightly.
Not least because those unfamiliar with the women’s game may not be aware of the slight difference of pace, use of space, and, to many fans’ and front rows’ delight, much less kicking.
Also, if you’ve been spoiled by the victories served up by the men and the U20s you may be tempted to turn your nose up at some potential results over the next few weeks.
Not for lack of ability on the players’ part. Nor dedication, nor passion, nor love of the game. All of which these players hold in abundance and in equal measure to our Grand Slam-winning champions.
Moreso, because Ireland will be the only team in this tournament who is not getting together for the first time since playing in the Rugby World Cup last November. Every other team will have spent a healthy amount of the past year with most players on full-time rugby contracts preparing for and playing at the World Cup. Compared to a handful of contracts given out to some Irish players towards the end of last year.
For the last number of years, and certainly throughout my time in an Irish jersey, we never had the realistic goal of winning a Six Nations. A thoroughly different feeling to the men's teams when they sit down for their first team meeting together and discuss their goals.
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago Ireland Women won the Six Nations Grand Slam.
Since then we reached the 2014 Rugby World Cup semi-final and won another Six Nations tournament in 2015.
How could we have had such a massive fall from grace in only a few years?
“Jaysus, aren’t the women great, going off to win a Grand Slam?” is how I imagine the conversations went from those who were supposed to be backing the team. And continued to remain stagnant in developing the women’s game in Ireland when every other country has been ramping up their domestic leagues and pathways for players.
It looks likely that England will sell out Twickenham Stadium in what’s going to be the first standalone women’s fixture against France at the home of English rugby. Does the IRFU not want to achieve the same in the Aviva? Do they not see the return on investing in women’s rugby? Sure why would they feel the need to do anything differently when such brilliant players brought them so much success for so cheap all those years ago?
There’s for sure a hangover from many years of disappointment within the women’s camp, as highlighted in the letter addressed to the Government in 2021 signed by 62 current and former Irish players. The letter stated that we had 'lost all trust and confidence in the IRFU and its leadership'.
So now, when I see that the IRFU is advertising for new provincial women’s development officers I think 'Great! Let’s see it in action'. When I see that Ireland women’s team is the first to change the colour of their shorts to eliminate anxiety over periods I think 'Good! What’s next?'
People of Cork, we have been chosen as the lucky city to host Women’s Six Nations games. We get to welcome the French and English to the Leeside on April 1 and April 22.
But it’s not just the tourists we need to show up for. It’s our own girls. Our own Irish team who have been working hard in training. Just as hard as Johnny Sexton and Josh Van der Flier and many doing it when they get home from work.
Let’s show them that we want the women’s team to succeed. That they’re worth as much as any men’s team and that we want the glory days to return for the women in green.
We want a third Grand Slam!