Firstly we would like to say we never intended this to be a 15’s vs 7’s topic, we are supporters of Irish Women’s rugby and we want BOTH teams to be successful. We have been frustrated by the inconsistencies shown by the IRFU for a long time now – the decision to pull three players and ring more changes just so happened to be the tip of the iceberg for us. Secondly the first piece written was meant to be the only piece written but following the response from the IRFU this week we felt it necessary to look into the ‘depth’ they are constantly referring to.
On Thursday Anthony Eddy spoke out defending his decision to pull Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller and Hannah Tyrrell from this weekend’s Six Nations clash. He spoke about developing the two squads, giving players ‘opportunities’ and about the numerous resources and investment they have put behind the squad. He also, in a moment that raised a lot of eyebrows in the rugby community, questioned the level of professionalism among the 15s squad. Players who have shown nothing but respect and commitment to Ireland, who give up their personal time to play for Ireland and who still remain amateur.
‘Opportunity’ was a word mentioned by Eddy on multiple occasions so we wanted to look at the facts surrounding the ‘opportunities’ given to these players. Since the opening game of the 2015 Six Nations, players have come off the bench with less than 10 minutes remaining on more than 20 occasions – is that really a development opportunity? Is this a way to test players on how they will perform at the highest level? Can a player really sink their teeth into a game, show you what they are capable of at the highest level and gain proper test match experience with less than 10 minutes on the clock? He stated they were now getting to a point where they feel they have ‘28/30 players who are capable of being successful.’ We would certainly hope so with 3 games remaining before a World Cup.
In the 16 previous test games leading up to this weekend’s clash with France Tom Tierney has had the ‘opportunity’ to hand out 368 caps. There have been 22 unused subs so Tierney has in fact handed out 346 caps to 51 different players (breakdown in the chart below). How are we only now getting to a stage where we have 30 players who are capable of being successful? Moreover, where are the remaining 21 players Tierney has used so far during his reign – does he not view them as capable? If so, why did he cap them in the first place? Tierney may argue that he needed to see players compete at a higher standard; if this is true the quality & relevance of the Interpro’s must surely be questioned. Or maybe it is quite simply just a case that he has capped too many players and not given some enough playing time to show what they are capable of. Either way capping 51 different players is a staggering statistic considering we have such a ‘small pool of players’ to pull from.
During their first campaign in the 2014/2015 season they capped 25 different players handing new caps to seven. During the 2015/16 season 15 new players received caps while 33 players were utilised. And so to the present 2016/2017 campaign. In the 5 games since the first Autumn International against England in November 2016 to our last game away to Italy 38 players have taken to the field, 10 of them new caps. As such, the most consistency shown by Eddy and Tierney was during the start of their tenure in 2015 – the year we last won the Six Nations. We question whether the 2015 Six Nations should have been the time when new players were blooded so that we should now be at a stage where we can all take a pretty good guess at who the match day 23 will be.
Eddy has stated that he feels this will be the best-prepared Ireland Squad heading into a World Cup. For that to be true they need time together to gel, to understand each other, to consistently play together, to learn how the player next to them thinks and moves so they can interpret their next step and be there to support them. What they need is for the union to stand up, be accountable for the inconsistencies shown to date and to put in place a system that prevents this from happening again.