Lynne Cantwell says she would be disappointed if sevens rugby takes over as the IRFU’s primary focus in the women’s game.
Now retired, and chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport Committee, the county’s most capped female player says the right structures have yet to be put in place to allow both codes to flourish.
In the IRFU’s Women in Rugby Action Plan 2018-2023, five of the seven performance targets related to sevens, with just two focused on the 15s.
Yet Ireland failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Sevens tournament, while the Six Nations was equally disappointing with a fifth-place finish, with only Scotland below.
“Yeah it would disappoint me of course,” Cantwell said, before explaining why she thinks the IRFU are focusing on sevens.
“The 15s doesn’t, because it’s world class and on a different tier.
“Money speaks, and the more money you get, the more aspirational you are going to be. The IRFU will be backing sevens more because there is more funding behind it and they are going to be able to say they are full-time.
“They have full-time coaches, they have full-time strength and conditioning coaching. That is not in the 15s because it is not an Olympic sport.”
Cantwell, a key member of the Irish women’s team that won the 2013 Grand Slam and reached the 2014 World Cup semi-final, says the legacy of those glory years has not been what she hoped for.
“I suppose there is a reality that there wasn’t any solid structures in place in rugby at that time, and there wasn’t huge changes made afterwards,” she said.
Camogie, hockey, Gaelic football, and basketball have stolen the headlines from women’s rugby in recent times, but while Cantwell’s words may sound pessimistic, she remains hopeful that the action plan can bear fruit.
“I think it’s clear that we haven’t got the right structures in place, we haven’t got the right answer to what it takes to enable the 15s to aspire and be competitive as well as the sevens,” she said.
“What we were hoping is that the action plan that came out last year was going to be strategic and map towards that success, but we haven’t seen the results of that yet.
“To a degree, we have to wait and see what that produces. I’ve been in the sport for 17 years and seen a lot of those rotations. I have to be hopeful about it.”