The IRFU has hit back with a degree of strength and anger at the contents of the letter sent today to Ministers and signed by 62 current and former international players.

The letter, reported on Sport for Business here earlier today, calls on the Ministers for “support now to enable meaningful change for all levels of the women’s game in Ireland from grassroots to green shirts.

The language in the letter paints a picture of ‘plans in disarray’, ‘missed targets’ and a lack of faith in the two major reviews of the Women’s game that are currently underway.

The signatories have called on the Ministers to ‘intervene in these processes to make them genuinely transparent and meaningful.’

The IRFU has this evening issued a statement which ‘refutes the overall tenor of the document which questions the IRFU’s commitment to, and leadership of, the women’s game in Ireland.’

It is disappointing that this group should choose now to come out with a series of allegations, given all involved in Irish Rugby are fully aware that two well resourced, independent reviews are in train and it is from these reviews that lessons, based on fact, can be learned and the foundations built which will serve the women’s game well for future generations.

Both sides appear to be looking at the same landscape but seeing very different contours, a situation which can best be resolved through open discussion, the likely path to be encouraged by Minister Jack Chambers.

The IRFU statement says that it “is fully committed to the development of the women’s game based on a sustainable structure, from grassroots up to international level. This is evident from the level of absolute commitment already in place by volunteers in clubs throughout the country, the IRFU rugby development team who are working tirelessly to bring the game to ever-widening playing audiences and the committee who have sanctioned ever-increasing budgets in support of the women’s game.”

There is a reproach to the letter writers saying that “the responsible approach would be to allow these reviews progress and conclude their work independently, without attempts to influence their work through outside interference.”

It then goes on to say “For the benefit of those who may not be aware and to balance, in some way, the opinions promoted in this recent letter it is important to reiterate that the IRFU has already publicly announced and set in train an independent review into, what was for all in Irish Rugby, players, team management, IRFU committee and executives, the hugely disappointing failure of our women’s senior international team to qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021.”

“This review is under the direction of an independent consultant, Amanda Bennett, former Welsh Rugby International and Founder of FairPlay, and will examine the preparation, participation, and performance of the Ireland Women’s XV during the recent RWC 2021 qualifying campaign. It is important that the integrity and independence of this review, which includes feedback from players, is not compromised in any way. The Union is already publicly committed to relying on the findings of that report as it plots future campaigns.”

“Allied to this is the more far-reaching review, established several months ago following a recommendation from the IRFU’s Women’s Advisory Group. The review group is chaired by John Robinson, Senior Vice President IRFU and IRFU committee members Fiona Steed and Su Carty and will be looking in depth at the long-term interests of the women’s game, including the alignment between the Domestic Game and The High-Performance areas, player pathways and women’s competitive structures.”

“All understand the importance of the international game in this matrix but of equal importance is the development of a structure for the long-term growth of the game at grassroots around club players and young girls coming into the game for the first time.”

It references data published only two weeks ago which revealed that 5,800 girls are active across 68 U14 Girls teams, 64 U16 Girls teams and 56 U18 Girls teams, together with 2,784 women playing across 81 adult women’s teams.

In addition, it paints the pathway from mini rugby, and Aldi Play Rugby, which is played by over 29,000 girls, to international level for girls entering the game.