WOMEN’S RUGBY IS a sport that has come on leaps and bounds in Ireland over the past few years.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Numerous successes and achievements — two Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam, that historic World Cup win over the All Blacks and a successful bid to become the 2017 hosts, to name but a few — have paved the way for increased recognition, funding and overall interest throughout the country.
That being said, across the water things have become even more advanced.
Reigning World Cup champions England’s set-up has turned professional. In 2014, the Rugby Football Union awarded full-time professional contracts to members of the women’s squad, a move which understandably had people talking this side of the Irish Sea.
Ireland captain Paula Fitzpatrick is unsure about the professional approach however. The Dubliner admits that it could happen here in the foreseeable future, but it’s a change she’d hesitate to welcome.
“They’ve twenty contracted players I think. It is a challenge, I suppose. People have asked me that before — ‘are you jealous of England?’ No is the answer.
“I think it’s [rugby] something that you love and that you enjoy, and sometimes if it’s your job there’s a lot of pressure, I mean obviously there’s pressure anyway, but with contracts and money comes added pressure that maybe wasn’t there before. That brings with it a whole new set of challenges and that’s something that England will have to deal with. But I suppose, we’re in the position we’re in.”
“I think it could [happen here in the next few years]. It would depend on where the funding was going to come from. At the moment with sevens there’s Olympic funding, and that’s how the money is there. Now with the increased publicity, things like televising the games maybe sponsorship would come through that way. But I don’t know, it depends where the funding would come from.”
Although not professional, one thing that’s certain in the Irish set-up is that they have found a viable system. In other countries, they specialise in either sevens rugby or 15-a-side and players set their focus on one, not both.
Over the past few years, Ireland have worked hard to try and find level footing, with the efforts coming to fruition in recent times. They’ve struck a balance and found a system that works to facilitate both camps, and players that want to go between the two sides.
“I think it makes sense given our player base that there is transfer between the two,” Fitzpatrick continues. “We just don’t have the number of players that other countries may have to stay specialised in one.
“Having transfer between the two makes sense to me, but it is about, I suppose, prioritising year to year what the focus is and then allowing whichever players are selected for each one the room to progress in those instead of chopping and changing.”
Not only is the women’s game being built on and improved in Ireland and England, its rise to the fore is also fast-moving further afield.
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
Fitzpatrick is the perfect candidate to discuss these changes, considering her stint with French side Toulouse last year. Having tasted a different atmosphere, playing abroad is memory she cherishes.
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Her plan was to spend a year there, which she did and afterwards there was an option to extend her stay. It was a tough decision, but at the end of the day she knew what had to be done.
“Bills have to be paid,” she smiles. “I know obviously I want to advance my career myself as well. It was a great experience I really enjoyed it and I got a sense of that professional atmosphere.