Monday, August 18, 2014

Time for a Women’s Heineken Cup?

let's push on

HoR pro logo greenThis piece was originally going to be a write-up on France v Ireland but instead I’ll harp on some more about how I feel the women’s game can move forward.

I have said countless times on social media how proud I am of the Irish squad and their progress throughout the tournament…and it’s important that we judge their achievements over the 2+ weeks as a whole and not the last couple of results. 

Besides…though the girls* have said on many occasions since the semifinal that they feel they have let fans down, we all know they have done nothing of the sort.  Beat New Zealand and only fall short against the hosts and eventual champions?  Given we could barely get our senior national team to the south of France a couple of years ago, I reckon they have done more than enough to show they belong at the top.

Plus, we must not lose sight of the fact that these games signalled the end of the road for key figures in the Irish set up - many  have deservedly become household names in recent weeks and certainly those who succeed them will have massive boots to fill.

But for those  attempting to fill those boots, I reckon the game needs to be brought forward sooner rather than later, and a good start could be the creation of a women’s version of the Heineken/Rugby Champions Cup, and if this were to be done in time for the 2015/16 season we’d need to start talking about it now.

Now just so we’re clear, I still don’t think I’ve suddenly become an expert on the topic; I’m merely offering an opinion and I hope it shows that I want the sport to progress between now and the next Women’s World Cup, which is only 3 years away don’t forget, and could well be here in Ireland the way things are shaping up.

Philip Doyle, who’s second spell in charge of the squad has come to an end, reckons there should be November women’s internationals.  I agree there should be top level women’s rugby in and around that time, but I think a provincial European competition would suit the game more.  And it doesn’t have to mimic the men’s version in format, or at least not as it stands now. 

The very first version of the Heineken Cup back in 1995/96 had just 12 teams, and I believe this could be an ideal way to introduce a women’s competition.  Just for starters I’d say have 3 teams each from England & France, 2 each from Ireland & Wales, and 1 each from Scotland & Italy.  Three pools of four producing 4 semifinalists. 

Such a tournament would provide test coaches not only with a platform where their elite squad members can get top level competition ahead of the Six Nations, but they can give fringe players a run as well.  And given the success of WRWC2014, I’d be reasonably confident the international component could attract interest in the form of TV coverage and sponsorship.

Yes, I know if Ireland have only 2 representatives then 2 provinces will miss out, but on the plus side our Interpro competition can have a bit of edge as well with qualification at stake.  (What about test players from the 2 provinces who don’t make it, you may say?  Maybe the qualifiers can draft in a few extra players to their squads.  Or perhaps a junior competition like the Amlin.  But something could be done, I’m sure.)

By the way…I know how important the 7s game is to women’s rugby and no doubt that calendar would need to be altered to facilitate a new competition, but in my view, it would be worth it.  Besides…this format would just take five weekends and thus not be too taxing on schedules.

Anyway…that’s my idea.  Much more qualified minds than mine will no doubt come up with something better, but whatever happens we need to see decisions to be made quickly while the hype is still strong. 

If hay isn’t made now while the sun is shining on women’s rugby, it will be in danger of being plunged back into darkness as the men’s season returns in just a couple of weeks - in fact, over in France where #WRWC2014 was happening, the men’s Top14 had the cheek to kickoff over finals weekend.

Sadly having tried to move heaven and earth on my schedule I cannot make it to Dublin Airport for 4:30pm this afternoon to give the girls their much-deserved welcome home.  To say it’s an awkward time is a major understatement, but hopefully they will get the sizeable turnout they deserve.

Maybe if the momentum generated by their heroics in France can be built upon, then by the time the next World Cup comes around,  the women’s game will have enough prestige to ensure things like kick-off times and homecomings can be more schedule-friendly for a greater proportion of the fan base.

And we must all of course do everything we can to help make this happen.  The legacies of the distinguished test careers of Fiona Coghlan and Lynne Cantwell demand it.  JLP

* = Apologies to those who object to my referring to the squad members as “girls”.  It is not meant as disrespect nor to be patronising.  At the RDS we shout Come On You Boys In Blue for Leinster men and nobody seems to mind.  The context here is the same. #COYGIG



Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019