Highlights: March 2023
A Grand Month
Where else to begin?
Some 1.45 million people tuned in as Ireland secured their fourth Grand Sland and first on home soil with victory Grand Slam win over England. “You couldn’t make it up,” Johnny Sexton told Virgin Media, “it’s like living in a dream . . . bloody hell, what a team.” And we all concurred.
Ultimately, ten of that side were named in the Six Nations Team of the Championship with Sexton joined by Andrew Porter, Dan Sheahan, Finlay Bealham, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris, James Lowe and Hugo Keenan. Remarkably, despite being nominated for the Player of the Championship and having consolidated his status in the global game, Mack Hansen couldn’t find his way into the selection.
Andy Farrell’s side were worthy of their clean sweep, having won all of their games by 13 points or more and ending France’s 14-game unbeaten run along the way in one of the best championship games in recent memory.
Undoubtedly inspired by their senior peers, Gus McCarthy and the Irish U20s also claimed a Grand Slam of their own. Adding to titles won in 2007, 2019 and 2022, the class of 2023 have can be proud of another hugely successful Irish campaign at this age grade. Over the course of the tournament Richie Murphy used 28 different players, all of whom contributed to Ireland’s points tally of 239 with Brian Gleeson and Ruadhan Quinn prominent with four tries apiece.
The future most certainly looks green.
Meanwhile, the Irish Men’s Sevens squad continued their rich vein of form by picking up 15 valuable points for their fourth place finish at the HSBC Canada Sevens in Vancouver. While disappointed to fall short at the penultimate hurdle and end the tournament with a Bronze final defeat, James Topping‘s side have moved up to eight in the World Series standings and have closed the gap on fourth-placed Fiji from 16 to 11 points heading into the Hong Kong Sevens.
The Irish Women’s Sevens squad currently occupy fifth place in the overall standings. With hosts France in fourth, their current position would see them qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris next year.
The Players’ Voice
Following recent issues in Wales, Simon Keogh stated his support for the WRPA and expressed his view that real partnerships with unions is the only way forward in the game. Speaking to International Rugby Players, Rugby Players Ireland’s CEO said that the “success of Welsh rugby is critical to the global game but in particular the 6 Nations and URC competitions.”
“Gareth [Lewis] and his team at the WRPA are trying to find a way through this challenging impasse and we wish them the best. We have found, through our experience, that forging collective partnerships between a union and its players is key to ensuring success.”
Ahead of the inaugural Unity Round, we were delighted to join forces with the United Rugby Championship to highlight the importance of inclusivity in our sport. Players, match officials & wider team management were given the choice to wear Rainbow Laces on their boots or trainers while Rainbow coloured strapping was also made available in a bid to change mindsets and showcase that BKT URC events and games should be a welcome space for everyone.
A collaboration with the Tackle Your Feelings campaign saw Nick McCarthy sit down with Joy Neville to discuss a range of topics including the barriers they have experienced, the pressures they face and how opening up also opens the door for others to share.
Nick, alongside teammate Chris Cosgrave, was also a guest on the newly launched Tackle Your Feelings podcast this month. Having opened the series with Hannah O’Connor and Laura Feely, Dr Hannah McCormack’s conversations with the likes of Ryan Baird, James Lowe and Eimear Considine are all available to listen wherever you get your podcasts.
A Legendary Weekend
For the first time since 2019, the Ireland v England Legends rugby game took place in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day. Almost 2,000 people were in attendance at Energia Park to see the likes of Sean O’Brien and Devin Toner dust down their boots for another throw of the dice. However, the presence of Delon Armitage, David Strettle and a few wily Legends players on the English side proved to be the difference on the pitch with England ‘running’ out 35-24 victors… not that it really mattered to us… or did it?!
Player Development Programme
We were delighted to host our colleagues from around the rugby world for International Rugby Players’ Player Development Conference. PDMs from South Africa, New Zealand, England, Wales, the Pacific Islands and Japan were represented at the international conference, the first since Covid, and one of the more topical issues was around dealing with the growing membership of retired players.
“How do we support players when they leave the game so that they can have a really successful life outside of rugby? That’s something we’re discussing in-depth,” said Dr. Lyons, who also hosted a Transition Workshop for our Connacht Rugby members during the month.
“The sense of identity when they leave the game and sharing best practice around this issue is something we can all benefit from discussing.”
— InternationalRugbyPlayers (@IntRugbyPlayers) March 7, 2023
March saw our HERFORM kick-off with our project partners convening in Dublin to map out the iniative. HEFORM is being created to develop digital resources with relevance, applicability, and accessibility, targeting the needs and requirements of female athletes as they enter a high-performance environment in sport.
The resources developed will address the critical barriers to career and life success, aiming to make their time within high-performance sporting environments more healthy, purposeful and successful, as well as they will make them more prepared for life after sport.
HERFORM will take an athlete-centric approach to research and content creation. Ensuring the specific needs and requirements of female athletes remain at the heart of all that we do. The project aims to curate a programme that creates a legacy across Europe by providing a new type of resources to female and by giving women’s sport a louder and united voice.
Nice doing Business with you…
In the days following Ireland’s Grand Slam success, Leinster Rugby announced that Ross Byrne, Jack Conan and Jamie Osborne have committed their respective futures to the province. Earlier in the month, Michael Ala’alatoa, Cormac Foley, Joe McCarthy, Luke McGrath, Tommy O’Brien and Scott Penny all put pen to paper on new deals to stay in Dublin.
Paul Boyle will remain at the Sportsground for the 2023/24 season where he will be joined by Irish Sevens player Andrew Smith and Sean O’Brien from the Leinster academy. After 11 years in Galway, Kieran Marmion will join Bristol Bears this summer.
In Munster, both Chris Farrell and James French have departed the club. Cian Hurley will step up from an academy contract in the summer while Chris Moore has extended his deal.
Oisin Heffernan has joined Newcastle Falcons until the end of the season.
Andrew Porter led the charge for the Irish Cancer Society with an appearance on the Late Late Show alongside Josh van der Flier and Dan Sheahan.
Rugby Players Ireland also linked up with our friends at Ulster Rugby to #RockYourSocks in support of Mencap Northern Ireland on World Down Syndrome Day.
Sadhbh McGrath and Niamh O’Dowd both made their international debuts for Ireland against Wales on what proved to be a difficult day for the women’s side.
Munster Rugby’s Ben Healy made his international debut for Scotland in their win over Italy.
Jack Dunne, Sean O’Brien and Rory O’Loughlin all featured in the Exeter Chiefs side that claimed the Premiership Rugby Cup on March 19.
RG Snyman emerged from the bench in the 63rd minute during Ireland’s win over the Scarlets. It was the first time the Springbok had appeared for the province since October 2021 – when he was only making his return from a torn ACL following his signing in July 2020.
John Muldoon is set for a return to Galway ahead of the 2023/23 season. The Connacht Rugby legend will link up with his home province to take on a coaching role following five years with the Bristol Bears.
Our congratulations to Ian Nagle who continues to break new ground in England. Swing Fitness provides high quality gym equipment to communities across London in a simple and accessible way. Last week, Ian and the team at Swing were named as winners of the Digital and Tech Innovation Award at the London Sports Awards 2023.
Staying in London, we spoke with Darren O’Reilly who returned to the English capital after a brief stint with Leinster and an AIL-winning season with Lansdowne to pursue a career in the corporate sector. O’Reilly, who also enjoyed a spell with Harlequins, is the co-founder of WholeSupp which aims to empower healthy lifestyles.
Connacht Rugby winger Alex Wootton will join our growing clubhouse at the end of the season. The English born player who represented Ireland at U20s and Sevens, spent five years with Munster before linking up with Connacht in 2021. In his statement, Wootton says “retiring from rugby is the right decision for me and my loved ones. I am excited about the opportunities that await me in the next chapter of my life and I look forward to embracing new challenges with the same passion and dedication that I brought to the rugby field.” We wish him well.
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— Alex Wootton (@alexanderwotton) March 6, 2023