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IRFU performance director David Nucifora set to sign new contract up to four years

The Australian is the key decision-maker in Irish rugby.

IRFU PERFORMANCE DIRECTOR David Nucifora is set to extend his contract with the union.

The Australian joined the IRFU on an initial five-year contract in what was a newly-created position in 2014.

That contract is due to expire this summer but The42 understands that Nucifora is set to extend his deal with the IRFU for up to four years.

Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora Nucifora with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

57-year-old Nucifora is essentially the top man in the IRFU, with overarching decision-making power on matters such as development pathways, succession planning, and player and coach contracts.

Capped twice by the Wallabies as a player, Nucifora is a former head coach of the Brumbies and the Blues, while he also spent nearly five years as general manager of the ‘High Performance Unit’ with Rugby Australia.

When he was appointed as the IRFU’s performance director in 2014, the union said Nucifora would oversee “planning and evaluation, the elite player development pathway and succession planning, and professional coach development and succession planning.”

Nucifora’s role also includes responsibility for “national team performance, provincial team performance, national age-grade teams and Women’s team performance, sport science and medical services, elite referee development and National Professional Game Board [NPGB] and policy development.”

The Ireland men’s national team were Grand Slam champions last year, although the quarter-final defeat at the 2015 World Cup was a major disappointment. Ireland Women won the 2015 Six Nations but have since been in decline and are currently ranked 10th in the world.

Nucifora has strongly pushed the development of sevens rugby in Ireland, with the women’s squad improving on the World Sevens Series and the men’s squad – relaunched in 2015 – having qualified for the Series for the first time, with the likes of Ireland 15s internationals Adam Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin passing through the system in recent years.

The Ireland U20s are the current Grand Slam champions and Nucifora has invested much of his time in focusing on the development pathways in this country, pushing the four provincial academies to produce players who are ready for senior rugby.

David Nucifora Nucifora during Ireland's tour of Australia last summer. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Nucifora has also looked to bring greater coaching talent into Ireland, with the recent additions of Andy Friend in Connacht and Dan McFarland in Ulster helping those two provinces to enjoy strong seasons.

From the outset, Nucifora has been open about his desire to see more fluid player movement between provinces in order to ensure a better stream of talent competing for places at international level.

The Australian has made some unpopular decisions in this regard, facilitating Irish players’ moves to rival provinces, while also frustrating the provinces by knocking back some attempts to sign foreign players.

Nucifora has also drawn the ire of many All-Ireland League clubs with a perceived disregard for the club game. 

The IRFU has launched the IQ [Irish Qualified] Rugby department under Nucifora, with the union keen for Irish-qualified players to join the provinces. Players like Billy Burns and Will Addison in Ulster, as well as Mike Haley in Munster, are examples of that focus.

All in all, Nucifora and Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt have been centrally focused on building player depth in Irish rugby since the last World Cup, when injuries to key men left Ireland vulnerable in their quarter-final defeat to Argentina.

The success or otherwise of that work will be clearer at this year’s World Cup in Japan, which kicks off in September.

Schmidt will depart Irish rugby after that tournament but it now appears that performance director Nucifora will remain in situ as the new era under incoming head coach Andy Farrell begins.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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