Ireland fall but women’s rugby continues to rise

Ireland’s women may not have won this year’s Six Nations championship, but they proved themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Sarah Harford went to their last match to find out more about this team, and the perception surrounding women’s sports.

It was a rainy St Patrick’s night in Donnybrook, but a crowd of over 6,000 packed the terraces to watch Ireland’s women face off against England. The Six Nations decider was to be a pivotal match, as both teams were in contention to win the Grand Slam.

Ireland were in a strong position going into this game, having been unbeaten in the tournament so far, and comfortably defeating a poor Italy side the week before. They also had home advantage, with massive support in the stadium.

However, after the opening try by England’s Amy Wilson Hardy after 16 minutes, Ireland found themselves playing catch-up early in the match.

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Irish team enter the pitch in front of huge crowd at Donnybrook. Image by Sarah Harford

Second half dominance

This began as a closely fought game. While England were first to put points on the board, both teams played good rugby in the first half. Ireland had many opportunities to score, with Paula Fitzpatrick and Sene Naoupu charging over line but unable to ground the ball.

However, things quickly began to change in the second half, with England scoring two more tries and a penalty. A late try from prop Leah Lyons buoyed the spirits of the freezing Irish supporters, bringing the score to 20-7, but it was not enough to get Ireland back in the game.

Soon afterwards, England scored two more tries in quick succession, securing their win and dashing the dreams of the Irish team.

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Ireland had many opportunities to score in the first half. Image by Sarah Harford

Ireland 7 – England 34

The final scoreline was not reflective of the game on Friday night. This was a disappointing defeat for an Irish team who have had a strong season but were challenged by a fully professional English outfit

In comparison with the men’s side and the under 20s squad, this was the best performance from an Irish team at this year’s Six Nations tournament. After their win against England the following day in the Aviva stadium, the men’s team were able to finish second overall on points difference, while the U20s had to settle for fourth place.

The women’s match was shown on RTÉ, but otherwise Tom Tierney’s team didn’t receive the same attention in the media as their male counterparts. All the major newspapers in Ireland and the UK ran only a match report of Friday’s game, alongside numerous articles analysing every aspect of the men’s tournament.

It’s clear from the crowds that turned up to Donnybrook, however, that there is an audience for women’s rugby, especially with such a strong team representing Ireland at present.

Minority report

In an op-ed for The Irish Examiner, athlete Derval O’Rourke commented on how women’s sport is perceived.

“You could be forgiven for thinking not very many women actually take part in competitive sport. We don’t fill the sports pages of newspapers nor do we grace tv screens every weekend. The numbers may not be as high as men’s sport but participation is certainly not proportionate to the levels of exposure.”

“Women’s sport needs coverage because without it accruing sponsors and fans is a tough ask,” she wrote.

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Irish women in action. Image by Sarah Harford

Sharon Hutchinson, a former international hockey player, founded sportswomen.ie after noticing how women were being underrepresented in the media.

“I set up the site out of my frustration with the lack of coverage of women’s sport in the mainstream national media. Instead of giving out, I decided to do my bit to get the news of women’s sport out there,” she told The City.

However, she thinks that the tide is beginning to turn, especially with regards to women’s rugby and GAA.  

“The likes of Niamh Briggs, Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley are now becoming household names,” said Hutchinson.

“The women’s Six Nations was on RTÉ and ladies Gaelic features well on TG4. This has come through increased sponsorship which has helped an increase in coverage, and in turn the viewing public is beginning to increase also.”

“I think the Six Nations campaign for the women was very successful,” she said. “Women’s Rugby has a very well funded and successful body behind it in the IRFU, which is great, and I do feel the support they are giving the women is genuine.”

World Cup

Men’s sport may still be where the big money is, but it’s clear that women’s rugby is on the rise.

They may not have won the Six Nations, but the Irish team have showed their strength this season. All eyes will be on Tom Tierney’s side as the Rugby World Cup comes to Ireland in August of this year. Can they improve on their fourth place finish at the 2014 tournament in France?

Hosting this global event should also get more people talking about the sport. With tickets starting from only €5 during the pool games in Dublin, this should attract a large crowd.

EirSport has the license to broadcast every game, and RTÉ have reached an agreement to show all of Ireland’s matches, plus the final which will take place in Kingspan Stadium, Belfast.

Ireland will no doubt have to face off against current World Cup champions England once again, but hopefully they’ll have learned some lessons from this week’s tough match.

The #wrwc2017 trophy tour visited The President of Ireland today with @niamhbriggs15 & @13rianodriscoll

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Featured image: Irish team at the Six Nations 2015, by Sam O’Byrne via Wikimedia commons

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