The IRFU have pledged an additional €1m of annual funding to women's rugby in Ireland, after launching their Women's Rugby in Ireland report this morning.
The report, which was conducted by Amanda Bennett of Fair Play Limited, sets out recommendations that will form Irish rugby's strategic five-year plan for women's rugby, from 2023 to 2028.
The 50-page report, which can be read here, covers women's rugby in Ireland from grassroots to high-performance, with the €1m in funding earmarked for facilities and pathways, in addition to the €5.5m that had been announced in Irish Rugby's annual report last month.
Among the recommendations is that the Interprovincial championship becomes "the performance competition" that feeds into the Irish national team, with the exact format of an improved Interpro season to be decided based on the world rugby calendar.
The IRFU say plans are continuing around a Celtic Cup competition with Scottish and Welsh teams, with one side from each nation expected to play in the inaugural competition before it is expanded in the coming years.
There are also recommendations to change the format of the women's All Ireland League from a 10-team league to two divisions of six.
The 2022 AIL season was reduced to nine teams after the withdrawal of Malone on the eve of the campaign, with Railway Union and Blackrock College set to meet in tomorrow's final at Energia Park in Donnybrook.
Fiona Steed, chair of the IRFU's women's sub-committee, says the current AIL model had been 'unfit for purpose'.
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"This was an area that was really explored in-depth both in the surveys and questionnaires, and one-to-one meetings," Steed (above) said at the launch of the report.
"The biggest thing that came out of it is that the majority of people who participated in the survey found the current women's AIL isn't fit for purpose, and it's something the steering group agreed with. This was based on a lot of the differences in the scorelines, which is not unique to the women's AIL.
"The primary recommendation is that we split it into a six and a six, so you have a Premiership and Championship in effect. This will allow for greater competitiveness in effect, between the teams in each division. There will still be promotion and relegation, and overall it's building on that there is a place for every adult to play.
"There needs to be a system that everybody gets to play at the level that's appropriate for them, and they aspire to. It's at the very initial stages, there's a whole journey to go with that so we're going to engage with the clubs, competition committee, and look at how we get to that phase."
The timing of the Interprovincial championships will also be designed to help inform selection for international campaigns.
Gillian McDarby, head of women's performance and pathways, says there will also be regional centres of excellence established around the country, to ensure an equal spread of talent around the four provinces.
"It's been identified we need to design new pathways, in partnership with domestic rugby and the provinces," McDarby said.
"What this will allow us to do is identify players from the age of 16 right up to senior, and provide them with support structures, and be able to represent Ireland internationally.
"We're looking at setting up regional centres of excellence around the provinces, and resourcing those with a technical coach, and an athletic performance coach.
"They'll be responsible for coordinating programmes, providing support structures within those centres, and what that will do is ensure sustainability, so you have players you can constantly feed into the national teams."