There are specific targets in terms of performance which reflect Ireland’s strength in the game but also plenty at the structural and grassroots level, including in the area of the Women’s game.
The IRFU has targeted for the Men’s team to make it to the semi-final stage of the World Cup in 2019 and 2023. It has also tagged the words ‘or better’ to that ambition in a statement that mirrors the rising expectation around Joe Schmidt’s side ahead of next year’s tournament.
Two or more Six Nations titles, two or more European titles and two or more PRO14 titles are also on the list of targets set out for those who currently hold the shirts at the highest level and while they are a stretch, as they should be, there is no reason to be any less ambitious.
Launching the plan in Dublin CEO Philip Browne recognised some of the challenges faced by the sport, not least in terms of funding in order to grow.
“The increased profile of rugby driven by on-field success has resulted in an increase in participation, especially through age-grade and the use of modified formats.”
“But of course we recognise the many challenges the game faces and we have sought to address these in this Strategic Plan as part of our effort to ensure the game, over the next five years and beyond, will be put on an even stronger footing for the generations to come.”
“The game continues to expand at every level and central to this expansion is funding. Currently, our professional teams, at national and provincial level, account for 93% of the game’s revenues, of this some 80% is generated by the men’s international team.”
“This stark statistic is reassuring and concerning in equal measure; the former as it recognises the phenomenal attraction of our senior international team to television rights holders, sponsors and supporters alike, while the latter highlights the extremely narrow base from which every other strand of the game must be funded.”
Only 16 percent of expenditure goes directly towards the international teams that generate the 80 percent, with 39 percent going towards the Provincial structure, 14 percent towards the domestic game and 11 percent towards elite player development.
The full document runs to 40 pages and is an impressive laying out of the principles behind the targets as well as how the growth and sustainability can be created.
In terms of player numbers, the sport is looking at an overall 8 percent growth in registered numbers to 210,000 by 2023, catered for by a growth of 11 percent in teams from 1,706 to 1,900 over the same period.
Commenting on the performance goals outlined in the plan, IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora said: “The focus will be to drive alignment across the game and ensure the talent pathways feed the high-performance side of the game with a particular emphasis on Sevens and the interface between clubs and schools and the professional game.”
“Key areas of focus will be the further advancement of the player management programme, coach education, talent development, investment in research and data analytics and the recruitment and retention of world-leading experts across the range of high-performance disciplines. The delivery of a world-class high-performance centre will be a key element in driving the performance goals targeted over the next five years.”
Women’s rugby features prominently in the plan.
“To achieve our objectives for female rugby, we recognise the need to build from grassroots to create a sustainable model for the game,” said IRFU CEO Philip Browne who will himself sit on the Committee overseeing progress.
“This entails attracting more adult and young female players into the game and providing sustainable and accessible opportunities to play the game through both 15s and Sevens.”
“We aim to create a structured pathway which attracts young female players to club rugby where they can progress their rugby careers through Under-14, Under-16 and Under-18 levels towards the senior Women’s game,” added Mary Quinn, Chair of the IRFU Women’s Sub Committee.
“In schools, we are committed to creating opportunities for female students to experience rugby through a Rugby7s and Sevens pathway.”
“Increased participation through a quality player development pathway that enables players to achieve their full potential. This, in turn, will support an increased flow of talent through the Women’s All-Ireland League and provincial panels into national squads.”
Speaking about driving competition at representative level and growing female participation in volunteerism and game administration Su Carty, IRFU World Rugby representative, added: “We aim to build depth to drive greater competition for representative places which will propel Ireland’s representative sides towards consistently strong performance levels on the international stage.
“We want to grow the number of female volunteers working in support of these programmes as coaches, referees, managers and administrators. Furthermore, we want this growth reflected in the governance of the game at club, provincial and national level.”
Image Credit, Dan Sheridan, Inpho.ie