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Nucifora to bring 'greater alignment across all areas' of Irish rugby

The Australian’s newly-created position was born in a post-2011 Rugby World Cup review by the IRFU.

Nucifora has signed a five-year contract with the IRFU.
Nucifora has signed a five-year contract with the IRFU.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

STARTING OFFICIALLY ON the 1st of June, the IRFU will have its first ever Performance Director in Australian native David Nucifora.

The appointment is rooted in the governing body’s review of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, when the IRFU Committee agreed to develop its ‘Plan Ireland’. This plan was seen as the necessary starting point for improved results at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

One of the key issues identified was the fact that voluntary committees were making decisions that so heavily affected the working lives of the professional coaches and players in Ireland. That space between old school appreciation for the game and modern day expertise needed to be bridged.

Nucifora’s newly-created position means the IRFU will have “qualified and experienced professionals being managed by a qualified and experienced professional,” according to chief executive Philip Browne.

Approval to begin searching for a candidate to fill the Performance Director position came as long ago as January of 2013, but Browne is pleased that a patient appointment process has yielded the finest possible candidate for a crucial job in Irish rugby.

Having left a similar role with the Australian Rugby Union in 2012, Nucifora yesterday admitted that “my first intention wasn’t to move overseas.” However, the 52-year-old was attracted to the IRFU’s proposition by the simple fact that the Performance Director’s role had already been clearly defined.

I think the first thing that really appealed to me was the structure that had been set up here. The structure of the role, the work that had been done within that ‘Plan Ireland’ paper gave me confidence that a lot of the things that initially needed to be put in place to make a role like this work had actually been nutted out, discussed and debated.

“For me, it was really important that that had been done.”

Hierarchy Source: IRFU

One of the key parts of Nucifora’s work will be to streamline the thinking – and actions – of the entire professional game in Ireland towards the “primacy of the national team,” while ensuring that provincial success is not sacrificed.

Joe Schmidt will continue to worry about the specifics of on-pitch performances, and Nucifora has “a huge amount of respect and confidence” in his ability to do so, having worked with him for three years at the Auckland Blues.

Away from match day and the training pitch, Nucifora will aim to ensure that there is “greater alignment across a number of areas” in Irish professional rugby, including management of players’ game time, player welfare, succession planning, strength and conditioning, medical care, analysis and nutrition.

In the professional game, there are so many things that make up performance,” says the Brisbane native. “There are so many components to it. I do believe that if we have a system where there are too many people going off on tangents, you lack efficiency.

“If you lack efficiency, then the people that normally suffer from that will be the players. If we can get a system that’s very well aligned across all the different components that make up performance, then ultimately the people who will benefit from that will be the players.

“That’s what I’ll be working on with the provinces and the staff within the national set-up; to see if we can get greater alignment across all areas.”

As Nucifora himself pointed out yesterday, his role is “wide-ranging,” but a key objective is that each of the factors that contribute towards the performances of Irish team on the pitch are “world-class”.

David Nucifora Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

How will the Performance Director cope when a plan that might benefit Schmidt’s Ireland meets with disagreement from one or more of the provincial coaches? Nucifora hopes to avoid that situation as often as possible through detailed planning and communication.

The fact that the provinces had a major say in deciding on the content of ‘Plan Ireland’ and the creation of his very role is a comfort to the former Wallaby hooker.

“I’m sure that over time there will be differences of opinion; that’s just the nature of how sport works. But what I am confident of is that a lot of people have had a say into this ‘Plan Ireland’ paper.

“That really is the blueprint to fall back on and those people within Irish rugby have said this role was needed to be bring the game closer together. I’m sure there’ll come times where there will be things we don’t agree on.

But I do believe that if we work with them across a number of different areas to bring what they need and what the national team needs, we will get better outcomes than what we’re getting now.”

New Zealand rugby has been praised for its joined-up thinking between franchises and national teams, with the continued supremacy of their senior men’s team the constant aim.

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A key part of the NZRU’s success has been the sharing of ideas, be they organisational, technical, tactical, mental or in the strength and conditioning department. Nucifora foresees something similar happening in Ireland.

“There’s an element of that that you’d want. When you talk about alignment, I don’t think you want to stifle anyone in what they bring to the game. There are talented coaches out there [at the provinces] and I think that having variety is an important part of development.

David Nucifora Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You don’t want to create the same beast everywhere and you want players to learn different things from different coaches and then apply it. I do think it’s important that players are exposed to different things.

“I’d like to see the national coaches kept busy during the year, involved in the academy system that’s already set up, and at the disposal of the provincial teams if they would like to use them.

“But certainly bringing together the coaching staff from around the country on a regular basis to be able to talk rugby, and share views and ideas so that we don’t have a closed shop in one particular province. There shouldn’t be any secrets in rugby, I think it’s a very simple game.

“I think if we can create an environment where people are comfortable to share and speak about the game, the players will ultimately benefit from that.”

Read the Plan Ireland “White Paper by clicking this link –>

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Murray Kinsella

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