Nucifora unveiled as IRFU’s new Performance Director
Aussie worked together with Joe Schmidt for three years at Auckland Blues
David Nucifora: is unveiled as the IRFU’s new Performance Director at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
As first impressions go it was indeed impressive. During the course of his unveiling in a 36-minute press briefing at the Aviva Stadium yesterday, the IRFU’s new Performance Director David Nucifora quickly underlined his reputation for being his own man, who knows his rugby, and is also eminently qualified for this highly influential position.
There may be misgivings about another ‘foreign’ import to Irish rugby’s elite level, but although Conor O’Shea, David Humphreys and Conor O’Shea, for example, would all have had their credentials, it’s doubtful any would have left their current positions. In any case, due to his three-year stint as General Manager of the ARU’s High Performance Unit, as well as eight years of Super Rugby coaching, Nucifora is even more qualified.
He also clearly intends to learn about Irish rugby before bringing his influence to bear, and as he formally starts on June 1st, will begin by observing the two-Test Argentine tour. Ruling out any coaching here due to his extensive brief, Nucifora cited his own coaching experience in stating: “I think that allows me to have a fair bit of empathy and understanding with the guys in their roles around the country.”
He should be an especially comforting presence for Joe Schmidt, (though technically the coach’s boss, Nucifora saw them working in tandem) given they worked together for three years at the Auckland Blues; the latter two as head coach when Schmidt was their backs’ coach.
Schmidt may not be especially grateful for Nucifora declaring: “Everything is achievable. Winning World Cups is achievable. You have to think like that. If you don’t think like that, you may as well pack it in.” No pressure there then. But the Australian did so in part because of the “belief” Schmidt instilled in the Irish squad in winning the Six Nations.
There has always been a fear that Schmidt might return to his native New Zealand when his three-year contract expires at the end of the 2015-16 season. But the appointment of Nucifora on a five-year contract to 2019 could add to the possibility of Schmidt extending his stay. “He’ll keep developing the game and the team here,” said Nucifora, “and when the time comes to make that decision we’ll sit down together with Joe because, like anyone, someone has to want to be somewhere to really put their heart and soul into it. I think he has only showed you a little bit of what he is capable of. I’m sure if he wants to stay through to that point of time (2019) he will be welcome.”
Ensuring an improved relationship between the national and provincial coaches is a major part of Nucifora’s brief – something that was less achievable in Australia as their franchises are autonomous. “They each have their own self-interest rules, I suppose, and they’re not forced to buy into the national plan. We would hope they would, but there’s no connection there.
“I’m not naïve enough to think that self-interest here within the teams doesn’t exist, but what we have to do is work with them and my role is to work with those coaches and organisations in the provinces to try and make sure that the decisions that are made aren’t just beneficial to the national team, they’re beneficial to them as well.”
The more competitive European qualification via the Pro12 may heighten rivalries, but with “succession planning” another key part of his remit, clearly Nucifora will have a hands-on approach to inter-provincial player movement. Given the greater sense of identity in Ireland, he may have to tread more warily here.
Yet, bearing in mind the slowness with which young players break into the provincial and hence Irish set-ups, Nucifora legitimately cited the benefits of the greater fluidity within Australia which, he said, was prompted by the concentration of player production in two centres (Brisbane and Sydney). “Here, the movement may not necessarily need to be initially at the highest level. Maybe the movement needs to be at a level underneath that.
“As part of the development pathway you want players playing at the highest level they’re capable of as early as possible, and that’s why you see such young players getting out there at international level. We don’t have the playing depth in Australia, so you’re forced to develop people very early and get the best out of them as quickly as you can, and that starts at a young age. At times it doesn’t work but we’ve also had a lot of success at that, so I’d like to think that it’s possible to be able to give coaches the confidence and players the confidence to perform at a higher level at a younger age if they’re ready.”
Hence, he would like his legacy to be that “the whole development pathway is producing players and gives long-term, sustainable excellence for Irish rugby” and that the Irish system produces “a lot of competition for places, both provincially and nationally. If we can do that, then I believe Irish rugby can be in a really strong position.”
IRFU CEO Philip Browne stressed that “it needs to work”. First impressions are that it will, but either way it will be interesting.