Simon Middleton has said his comments that place-kicking from the touchline in women’s rugby is “unfair” were just an observation and not derogatory, adding ‘female golfers tee off differently.’
Ahead of England’s Round 3 Women’s Six Nations clash vs Wales in Cardiff, Middleton said the parameters for goal-kicking in women’s rugby should be changed, adding: “If a try is scored [within five metres of the touchline], the option should be there, maybe not to bring it into the 15-metre line, but maybe 10 metres from the touchline.
“I think that could impact the game and change it positively. I think it is a bit of an unfair game for female kickers because so much about goal-kicking relies on power.”
Ahead of Saturday’s Round 4 clash between Ireland and England in Cork, Middleton exclusively told Sky Sports that his comments were just an observation, adding he still thinks a change would benefit the women’s game.
“Maybe it’s me being naïve, I don’t do social media and stuff like that, but there’s clearly been a strong reaction both ways to it,” Middleton said.
“For me, it’s just an observation made on 10 years of being in the game.
“And it’s born out of being asked the same questions now about what we see, as I was back in 2015 and 2017. Which is why female kickers’ percentages from the touchline aren’t as good as male kickers.
“There’s a physical disparity, and lots of it can come down to technique, without a shadow of a doubt, but there is lots that can be factored in.
“It’s just an observation. If you think about how we can make the field a fairer playing field at times.
“Again, I use the analogy of women golfers as opposed to male golfers, using a different tee. There’s nothing derogatory or anything aimed in it at all.
“It’s just how can we give players that practice religiously, what I would class as a fairer chance of executing their skill.
“We’re looking at everything all the time to try and improve the game, and if people don’t think it would improve the game, then that’s fine.
“It was literally just an observation, but caused a bit of a stir didn’t it?”
England skipper Marlie Packer played down the controversy,” saying: “There’s been some light-hearted stiff about in response, which is quite funny. And then there’s obviously some people that are very opinionated on it.
“I think when he said it, he was just putting it out there.
“The game is always evolving: tackle height, scrum laws, maul laws. We’re always looking for player safety but also to make the game more exciting.
“Look, it’s just someone else’s opinion on something which might make it a bit more enjoyable, and a bit more people sitting on the edge of their seats kind of rugby.
“For me, we need to score close to the posts. Let’s help our teammate out, score close to the posts, and then we don’t even need to talk about this situation.
“Because the accuracy, the hard-work, the training they put into their kicking, you couldn’t question it. So let’s try and help each other out.
“So all the Tweets and articles people have written about it, leave them to it.”
Ireland are on a steep learning curve | Red Roses skipper Packer: Middleton was just putting it out there
The Red Roses next face an Ireland side who have gone from 2015 Grand Slam winners to failing to qualify for the most recent Rugby World Cup after losses to Spain and Scotland.
Ireland have suffered heavy defeats to Wales (31-5), France (55-3) and Italy (24-7) so far in this championship, and have been beset by off-field issues in recent times.
Head coach Greg McWilliams has most recently had to come out and deny the IRFU is sexist.
“Ireland are on a learning curve, and at times it feels a really steep one. We’ve been on it in the past,” Middleton said.
“But ultimately, our job is to be the best we can be. We’ve got players right across the squad who are looking to prove points, coming back from injury, looking to keep the shirt, to get the shirt.
“As a group, we want to be better every time we play. That’s our foundation.
“We put some really good stuff together against Wales, but there was definitely some stuff we need to be better at.
“We’ve been focussed on that this week, and transferring our work in training to the game.
Middleton departs his role as Red Roses head coach at the end of the 2023 Six Nations, having been in position since 2015, leaving him with two games left in charge.
“I’m really enjoying it. I love competition anyway,” he added.
“It’s like anything in your job, you’ve got to put the hard yards in with training. The players and staff are exactly the same.
“Everything we do it for is competition. When we get in there’s such a buzz, and we have such a brilliant group together.
“We all went out last night, 49 of us, for a meal. And they were taking the mickey out of me and having a good laugh at me as I was struggling with a quiz desperately.
“I did remind them who picks the side, but it doesn’t bother them anymore! So I’m going to miss that. I’m going to really miss being around the group.
“The thing that’s really pulling at me at the moment is I can see the game going upwards. It’s going to go massive.
“The ball is rolling and it’s only going to go faster. Last week, we had 8800 at Wales. Fantastic occasion, with stands full and the chair on the field.
“It’s a real great vibe, and you can’t not miss that.
“But I am good at leaving things behind. I’ll move on and whatever I’m doing next, I’ll enjoy. And I’ll certainly take a lot of memories with me.”
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