IRFU upgrade Exiles set-up with Joe Lydon and Kevin Maggs
Union restructuring current network which will now be known as the IQ programme
Kevin Maggs has been appointed as the IQ Regional Talent Coach in Britain. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
Joe Lydon, the IRFU’s new Head of International Talent ID and Development. Photograph: RFU/Getty
The IRFU has announced two key appointments as the union seeks to restructure the current Exiles set-up and network. It will be known going forward as the IQ (Irish qualified) programme.
Former Britain rugby league international Joe Lydon, who previously fulfilled similar to roles at the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the English RFU, will occupy the newly created position of the IRFU’s Head of International Talent ID and Development.
Kevin Maggs, who won 70-caps for Ireland from 1997-2005, has been appointed as the IQ Regional Talent Coach in Britain and also have responsibility with regard to the IQ Sevens programme. The 42-year-old former centre will leave his current position as head coach at Moseley.
The IRFU’s Performance Director David Nucifora offered an overview of the strategy to grow the player base for the provincial and national sides outside of Ireland and ultimately to bring them over where possible and practical to play their rugby here.
He explained that there is reasonable satisfaction with the development of the playing base in Ireland over the last three years with the players coming through at a younger age and in greater volumes. The depth and competition should drive up the general standards.
A desire to extend the talent pool saw the union look abroad and while the IQ programme is specifically geared towards the Exiles structure in Britain, the long-term outlook is to extend that to establishing and harvesting a global database.
“The Exiles programme has been there for many years but it’s always been run by a force of volunteers. Twelve months ago, we started to beef that up with Wayne Mitchell’s appointment from being an EPDO (Elite Player Development Officer) over here to putting him over there.
“We’re taking that to another level, where we’ve created the IQ programme, which is basically a performance arm that sits on top of the Exiles programme. It will complement what the Exiles already do, they’ll do exactly what they’ve always done and they’ve done a good job on that over the years.
“We’re putting a performance structure around it, hence Joe’s (Lydon) appointment to oversee that programme.
“What we’re looking to do is to be able to really focus on the higher-level talent that exists in the UK, both with helping the Exiles identify and develop those at a young age, but then also beyond school age really look to support and continue to develop the Irish boys that have gone over there and are already playing their rugby within the UK.
“Or it might be for the Irish-qualified boys that exist within the system within the UK that potentially could be playing their rugby in Ireland for Ireland. Joe’s (Lydon) background is he used to head up the talent pathways and player development areas for both the RFU and the WRU, so he’s very au fait with the systems that exist over there, which is tremendous.
“Our aim is not just to support the Irish-qualified talent that exists within the UK or just our players that are playing their rugby over there. We’ve also got an ambition to support our coaches that are working in the UK as well, so it’s all encompassing in that regard.”
A prime motivator is the prospective change to Regulation Eight, which governs player eligibility at international level. At the World Rugby meeting in Kyoto, Japan on Wednesday, the qualification period is likely to be extended from three years to five.
Nucifora admitted: “We’ve always been of the mindset that they are the rules that exist and we’ll use them the same way that everyone else has used them. I think we’re pretty confident to say that that’s going to change this week.
“We’ve put a fair bit of effort into designing this programme because we see that we’ve got a natural advantage in having Irish talent spread around the UK but also around the world, so we’ll be putting some focus onto some of those areas outside the UK down the track a little bit.”
The 53 year-old Lydon was an outstanding rugby league player with Britain and Wigan, the England rugby union backs’ coach from 2004-2006, and then got into elite player development, first with the WRU (2008-2013) and then the English RFU (2013-2016).
He officially started in his new role with the IRFU on February 7th this year. He admitted: “For me it is a job I enjoy and want to do. Developing talent ID and providing opportunities is fascinating because you get it wrong more than you get it right.
“As far as being Irish qualified (myself) that is a secondary thing. It wasn’t a problem for me to be here because as far as I am concerned it’s a profession. My grandparents are from Oughterard. That was home when we were reading letters in the kitchen in Wigan.”
The new programme will be funded from the coffers of the IRFU. Nucifora said: “We are just utilising funding that always existed. We have just repositioned it really.”
On the decision to appoint Maggs, Nucifora explained: “He’s been at Moseley for around seven years as a coach, so he’s got an unbelievable knowledge of that tier below the Premiership.
“He’s got great Irish connections throughout the UK, so there’s already a number of players he’s brought to our attention that we didn’t know about and are Irish-qualified.
”Having someone of Kevin’s profile involved is a really positive thing and a guy who wants to coach. He’s another Irish coach that we can bring into the system to help develop him personally. There are a number of positives there for us.”