Next year’s Women’s Six Nations will be the first ever fully professional championship. With all the participant teams having players on contracts of varying kinds, the playing field is leveling up but not yet exactly equal.
With England, the number one ranked team in the world, having the more professional environment for longer than any of the others, Ireland are expected to continue to chase.
“It will be a fully professional competition next year,” said former Irish captain Fiona Coghlan at the launch of the Canterbury Ireland men and women’s rugby jersey ahead of the women’s tour of Japan.
“I think contracts are absolutely amazing (43 Irish contracts will be awarded to players by the IRFU). But more importantly it’s those pathways for players, so they can step up to that standard and get competitive games week in, week out not just at international level but underneath that. It is hugely important.”
A number of Irish players have signed for English club sides, while the squad to tour Japan for two Test matches includes some teenage players, who have not yet played senior rugby.
“We’ve a lot of girls playing in the Premiership in order to get quality game time, so are we going that route or are we bringing them back here with the provinces or the AIL here. Then the link between underground stuff and senior stuff,” said Coghlan.
“We can see for this tour there are a lot of 18, 19-years-olds that haven’t even played senior rugby that are now on tour in Japan because the pathways have not been there previously for them to step up.”
Coghlan added that they are still waiting for the IRFU review into women’s rugby which is due this summer. Last December, the IRFU hit back at a group of over 60 women’s players who penned a withering letter to the Irish Government, complaining about the governing body. The group of current and high profile former players voiced their concern at how the women’s program has been managed.
The group requested that the Irish Government Act in an oversight capacity in relation to two independent reviews into the women’s game that were taking place.
“We are still waiting for that review to come. I think that was supposed to be due this summer. I still want to wait for that about the overall game in Ireland.”
However, overall she added the IRFU have been active in making changes to the game with the announcement of 43 contracts the latest development.
“Kevin Potts (IRFU chief executive) has done a really good job,” Coghlan said. “He took this on before he was in place. It took this on in December even though he wasn’t starting in the role until January. He was fully engaged with the likes of Ciara Griffen and Lindsay Peat and those at the forefront.”