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Ex-Ireland centre Maggs joins as IRFU launch new IQ programme in UK

The highly-regarded Joe Lydon, formerly of the RFU and WRU, will oversee the new branch.

THE IRFU HAS launched the new IQ [Irish-Qualified] Rugby programme in the UK, aiming to support and unearth more players with Irish roots to join the provinces and play for the national team.

The IQ Rugby is being run by highly-regarded Englishman Joe Lydon, who formally began his role with the IRFU in February, having previously overseen the development pathways in English and Welsh rugby.

Also joining the IQ programme is ex-Ireland centre Kevin Maggs.

Kevin Maggs Maggs won 70 caps for Ireland.

Maggs, a native of England who qualified for Ireland through his Limerick-born grandfather, has spent the last seven years working as director of rugby for English club Moseley but will join the IQ programme as regional talent coach this summer.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora yesterday unveiled the progressive new programme, which will see Irish-qualified players in the UK receive high-performance support from Lydon, Maggs and others.

IQ Rugby will sit on top of the existing IRFU Exiles programme, which has successfully identified Irish-qualified players like Kieran Marmion, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Arnold, Alex Wootton and others in the UK system, leading to their eventual moves to Ireland.

The Exiles programme will continue its work, led by talent identification officer Wayne Mitchell and an army of volunteers, with various regional trial days throughout the UK and the ongoing selection of an Exiles U18 side to play the Irish provinces each season.

However, Nucifora and the IRFU are keen to further tap into the Irish-qualified population in the UK in a bid to create more depth in Ireland’s playing pool, as well as provide greater support for Irish players who move to the UK as professionals.

Since joining the union in 2014, Nucifora has spent the majority of his time as performance director working on the area of talent and coach development here in Ireland, the overriding aim being to create depth.

Content that the measures taken so far will help to create more competition for places in the provinces and the national team, Nucifora and the union are now focusing their attention abroad.

With Lydon leading the new IQ programme, work is already underway in the UK and there are future plans to tap into the Irish-qualified populations in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the US and elsewhere.

“We’ve really worked on developing our talent within Ireland,” said Nucifora yesterday. “There’s been a lot of work put into the talent pathways, the creation of the national talent squad, the extra staff we’ve put into that and all of that is on the basis of our strategy being to create more competition for places.

Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora Nucifora with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.

“We need to build bigger talent pools and the reasoning behind that is that the more competition that we can create for places – be it contracts at provincial level or national level – more competition creates more performance, which creates higher performance.

“Our attention has now turned to how we compliment that and the obvious one was what we do with the Exiles 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.”

Lydon is an ideal acquisition to head up IQ Rugby – his official title is ‘head of international talent ID and development’ – given that his two most recent jobs with the RFU and WRU have been in the area of talent development.

England backs coach between 2004 and 2006, Lydon resigned from his position as head of international player development for the RFU last year after a three-year stint in which his remit included overseeing England Saxons, Women, U20s, U18s, and sevens sides.

“Joe’s background means he’s very au fait with the systems that exist over there, which is tremendous,” said Nucifora.

Fittingly, Lydon himself is a man with Irish roots, although his motivation for accepting Nucifora’s job offer – they first entered talks about IQ Rugby last November – was his passion for developing players.

“I have worked with the RFU and the WRU, these are still the same conversations they are having,” said Lydon.

Rugby Union - RBS 6 Nations Championship 2005 - Wales v England - Millennium Stadium Joe Lydon is a former England backs coach.

“You only have to look at the English team to know they are not all English-born. For me, it is a job I enjoy and want to do. I have worked with the senior England squads, however 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, 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, but that doesn’t mean to say I know much about it. That wasn’t the driving factor. I knew David long before he joined the IRFU and I came onboard.”

The appointment of Maggs points to another aim of IQ Rugby, which is to “support our Irish coaches that are working in the UK,” according to Nucifora.

Maggs has been coaching a new IQ Sevens team in recent times, with the squad of Irish-qualified players competing in the first leg of the Super Sevens Series in Suffolk last weekend, while they will take part in the Dublin 7s this Saturday in Old Belvedere RFC.

Maggs will also give the IQ programme a large database of Irish-qualified players.

“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,” said Nucifora.

“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 he’s a guy who wants to coach. He’s another Irish coach that we can bring into the system to help develop him personally. There’s a number of positives there for us.”

Kieran Marmion Marmion is a product of the Exiles.

The need for Irish rugby to continue to create more depth will only increase with the change in the residency law around international rugby, which will shift from three years to five years.

The IRFU has benefited from the three-year residency regulation in recent times, with the likes of CJ Stander, Jared Payne and Richardt Strauss playing for the national team, while there are more to come.

However, with the regulation set to be extended soon, that source of adding depth to Irish rugby will be more limited and Nucifora is keen for the pool of genuinely Irish-qualified players to grow and grow.

“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,” said the Australian.

“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.”

It’s intriguing to think of the IRFU digging into Irish-qualified talent further afield, but Nucifora and Lydon are convinced that the UK has vast potential in this regard.

Nucifora stresses that the Exiles branch has been doing strong work for years – although the long-serving Mark Blair has been made redundant under the new plans – but his belief is that there is more to come. They will look to vastly broaden the reach, with plans even including dipping into other sports to look for Irish-qualified talent.

“The proof will be in the pudding as to how many players come through,” said Nucifora when asked if there are defined targets for IQ Rugby.

“That’s one way of looking at it, but if we go right back to the start, our whole ambition was to grow the talent pool of Irish rugby. Our focus has been on growing that here and retaining our players to play in Ireland.

Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints - Anglo-Welsh Cup - Welford Road Leicester's George McGuigan is Irish-qualified.

“Now we’re adding another mix of players from over there to add to that competition. The more players we’ve got competing for things, competing for positions, the stronger we’re going to be.

“We could say we’ll judge how successful this is going to be through numbers that come through, and that will be one way and I’d be confident that we will continue to get good players coming through and playing for Ireland.

“But if all they do is add to the level of competition for places and contracts, to have people competing harder, that’s been a success as well.”

Read an in-depth interview with Joe Lydon providing further detail on IQ Rugby this Saturday on The42.

O’Connell on the scoresheet, Schmidt into the semis and all the exiles action

‘They need to be able to say, ‘I can see myself getting a green jersey”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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