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'Winning World Cups is achievable' - Nucifora says Ireland cannot limit ambition

The IRFU’s newly-appointed Performance Director wants to see more young Irish players in first-team action.

The IRFU's new Performance Director, David Nucifora.
The IRFU's new Performance Director, David Nucifora.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THE IRFU’S NEW Performance Director, David Nucifora, believes the Irish national team should be aiming for the pinnacle of international rugby.

Speaking at his introduction to the media at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon, the Australian outlined the “wide-ranging” duties his newly-created position will involve, before stressing that Ireland must target the very highest honours.

“I think you don’t want to limit yourself at all,” says the 52-year-old. “We’ll talk about being world-class. You have to aim to the highest level; 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. I think it’s important that we create that sense of belief.”

The two-times capped former Wallaby hooker did point out his sense that the process of instilling a deeply-rooted Irish confidence has already begun under head coach Joe Schmidt, his former assistant at the Auckland Blues.

Watching from afar, I think one thing that Joe did really well with the group [this season] is that he gave them a sense of belief. When they were in tight spots, they believed in what they were doing.

“That’s what you’ve got to have to be successful, you’ve got to have that belief.”

So what role will Nucifora play in the progress of the Irish team? IRFU chief executive Philip Browne revealed that this appointment originally “stemmed from the Rugby World Cup review in 2011,” when it was identified that a “fully-integrated approach” was needed in the professional game on these shores.

Having extensively consulted the provincial and national team management and players, the IRFU created the role that Nucifora will occupy for the next five years, as per his agreed contract.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt worked under Nucifora at the Blues. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The 2004 Super Rugby champion outlined that he feels “very honoured and privileged” to have been entrusted with the job, before explaining what duties he will perform for the IRFU.

“It is a very wide-ranging role. It encompasses working not only with the national team, but very closely with all the provincial teams on the development pathway, making sure that we have the most efficient and productive pathway within Ireland.

“Our aim is to keep producing players of a world-class level to ensure that the national team has the ability to choose from a really strong pool of players. The role also looks after all of the underage teams, the age grade teams that exist off the development path in the men’s, women’s and sevens game.”

A possible increase in the movement of Irish players between provinces is the topic du jour at present, and while Nucifora has no clearly defined thoughts on whether the likes of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw may begin that process, he does believe that young Irish players need the best possible chance of playing senior games.

I probably don’t have a view, straight up, on the movement of players between provinces. I think that players getting exposure to the highest level that they’re capable of, or ready for, is important.

“I don’t think that players sitting on the sideline in tracksuits benefits anyone. That’s an important part of development. Also, players want to play. We’ll be working on a system where we don’t want players warehoused in one particular spot.

David Nucifora Nucifora at the Aviva Stadium. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“If it’s in their best interests, and the teams’ best interests, the national body’s best interests, then hopefully we can get them playing.”

Finally, who’s the boss? Joe Schmidt is clearly the man trusted by the IRFU and the general rugby population to lead the national team forward on the pitch, but will he be reporting to Nucifora?

That was the situation when Schmidt was an assistant to Nucifora at the Blues, but the ex-Queensland front row states that the relationship will now be on a more equal footing, as the pair look to “get good alignment” between the four provinces and the Ireland set-up.

“Ultimately, I’m responsible for Joe’s role, I suppose, and their performance, but having worked with him before, I see it going forward as something that we’ll be working very closely together.”

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Murray Kinsella

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