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David Nucifora and Anthony Eddy.
# Union
IRFU in talks with Nucifora for new deal but refuse to comment on Eddy's position
The union’s CEO Philip Brown said he didn’t want to provide a distraction for the Ireland team.

IRFU CEO PHILIP Browne has confirmed that the union has opened talks to extend performance director David Nucifora’s contract beyond the end of the current season.

The Australian’s deal is set to expire in the summer of 2022 but the IRFU has begun negotiations to extend that contract, with Browne saying the union is “very happy with the job that David Nucifora is doing.”

Nucifora joined the IRFU in April 2014 and is seen as the most powerful figure in Irish rugby, with a wide-ranging role that involves overseeing all Ireland national teams’ performance – including the women’s team – as well as the provincial teams’ performance, player development, coaching development, refereeing development, succession planning, and more.

Meanwhile, IRFU CEO Browne refused to comment on whether director of women’s and 7s rugby Anthony Eddy’s position is untenable following the latest controversy in the women’s game.

Eddy’s comments this week regarding Ireland’s failure to qualify for next year’s Women’s World Cup have provoked a backlash from within the squad, leading to Eddy apologising to captain Ciara Griffin and her team-mates.

Eddy joined the IRFU in December 2014 and though the women’s team won the Six Nations several later months, there has been a decline ever since. Both the Ireland womens’ 15s and 7s teams have missed a series of IRFU targets in recent years.

There are currently two independent reviews underway in Irish women’s rugby – one looking at the recent World Cup qualification failure and the other examining the entire women’s game and pathways.

Browne – who will retire from the IRFU at the end of this year – was asked if Eddy’s position is now untenable and opted against backing the Australian.

“We are facing into two big matches for the girls in terms of the US and Japan,” said Browne.

“My own view on this is that it would be totally inappropriate and just plain wrong for me to be making any comments that could distract the team from what they need to do, which is focus and priorities on what is immediately in front of them.

philip-browne Ryan Byrne / INPHO IRFU CEO Philip Browne. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“We are behind the team and hopefully they will deliver the performances and results for them, and I’m sure they will. I am fully aware that there are issues, I am fully aware of the different views and opinions that are out there. The independent reviews are up and running to actually answer those questions.”

When it was put to Browne that Eddy himself, an IRFU employee, had created the current ‘distractions’, he again declined to comment.

“Please don’t get me wrong but I honestly feel that for me to get involved in a discussion around team management when they are trying to prepare for two major fixtures would be just wrong,” said Browne.

The IRFU’s 25-strong committee currently only has three female representatives in Su Carty, Fiona Steed, and Yvonne Comer.

Asked if the IRFU is content with that level of female representation on its main committee, Browne said the union is working to improve the situation.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Browne. “I think there’s more to go, a greater distance to go.

“We changed our laws and our governance structure, and part and parcel of that is that each province is entitled to up to four delegates on the IRFU committee but what we’ve stipulated is that at least one of those delegates must be female.

“We’ve given them a period of three years to actually get to that position. Two provinces have now put on female delegates and I hope the other two provinces will follow fairly shortly.”

Browne added that the IRFU has been running leadership initiatives to help produce more female administrators.

“We’re making progress. Are we there yet? I think we’re on a journey. I don’t think we’re at the end point, we’re on a journey.”

The IRFU chief executive is hopeful that the two reviews that are ongoing, with former Wales international Amanda Bennett central to both, can lead to progress in the women’s game.

irelands-head-coach-anthony-eddy Billy Stickland / INPHO Anthony Eddy apologised to the Ireland squad this week. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“To be fair, we do have a women’s action plan,” said Browne when asked about the state of the women’s game.

“Just to demonstrate the level of importance that we attach to the women’s game in Irish rugby and the IRFU we actually have a strategy within a strategy, which is there for everyone to see. It’s on our website if you want to look at it.

“I’m confident that there is a commitment by the IRFU that the women’s game is put on the best possible footing to develop as quickly as is possible or practical. There is no instant, easy answers. You can’t conjure something out of nothing.

“It takes time to develop the game and to develop players and there has been some great work done and sometimes that’s lost.”

After praising the work of volunteers around the country, as well as the IRFU and provinces’ rugby staff, Browne said they must take criticism on the chin.

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“We’re all 100% behind the women’s game. Maybe that doesn’t seem evident, but we are. We’re committed to making sure that the women’s game succeeds, that it develops and that we address whatever issues there are.

“At the end of the day, if the criticism is deserved, we have to take it on the chin and move on and make sure we move on in the right direction. That’s the purpose of the two reports.”

As for Nucifora’s work as performance director, Browne expressed the IRFU’s satisfaction.

“I think we’re very happy with the job that David Nucifora is doing and I’m in discussions with him at the moment in terms of a contract extension,” said Browne.

“All you have to do is look at the through-put of players coming into the provincial system and the success that we’ve had in bringing young players through in the provinces and, indeed, the national team.

“The work he has done on the pathways which in many respects is maybe not as visible for people, the support structures in terms of the S&C staff and pathways, the coaching staff and pathways, the talent identification programmes that have been put in place – all of those things have really been put in place with initiatives that have been developed by David.

“The performances of the national team are effectively the endpoint in terms of the success of the pathways. Obviously, the players and coaches are critical to that as well.

“David’s job is to find the raw material for the high-performance system and I think he’s done a really good job.”

Asked to confirm that he was speaking about the men’s game, rather than the women’s game, Browne confirmed that was the case.

Browne was speaking ahead of the IRFU’s AGM, where the union’s deficit of €10million for the year ending 31 July 2021 was confirmed.

This follows a €36million deficit reported for the preceding 15 months by the IRFU and Browne warned that there are still financial concerns for the future.

“It wouldn’t take too much to tip us over into difficulty again,” he said.

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