IRFU performance director David Nucifora. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IRFU open to B&I League chat as end of Nucifora era looms

David Humphreys will take over as the union’s performance director next year.

AFTER A DECADE in charge of Irish professional rugby, David Nucifora will finish up as the IRFU’s performance director next year, making way for former Ulster out-half David Humphreys to step into the role.

Ex-Wallabies hooker Nucifora was the first person appointed to this high-powered position in Irish rugby and hopes to depart after more success for Irish teams.

There’s the men’s 15s’ Grand Slam defence to come, the women’s 15s’ attempt to improve in the Six Nations, the run-in to the provincial seasons in the URC and Champions Cup, and the matter of Ireland’s men’s and women’s 7s teams competing at the Olympics in Paris next summer. Nucifora has been a huge advocate for 7s rugby in Ireland and will hope to see a big achievement at the Games.

52-year-old Humphreys played for Ulster 163 times, as well as winning 72 Ireland caps, then spent six years as his native province’s director of rugby before a similar period with Gloucester. After a stint consulting with Georgia, Humphreys joined the England and Wales Cricket Board earlier this year but will switch to the top job in Irish rugby in 2024.

The IRFU is confident that Humphreys can drive Irish rugby toward further success in the future.

“I’ve total confidence,” said IRFU CEO Kevin Potts. “I think he will be an outstanding performance director.

“He will build on the excellent work that has been done by David. His [Humphreys'] connection to the Irish system means he has a deep passion for Irish rugby but he will be challenging. He’ll be hard-nosed, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that, and he’ll be making the tough calls that need to be made, which have been made so well in the past by David Nucifora.

“I meet David Humphreys quite a bit. I’m really excited by his arrival in the spring, and it will be really interesting how he takes it on to the next level. I’ll be very interested to see how you feel he takes it on when he’s up and running, but I think he’s a really good hire and we’re very lucky to get him.”

Humphreys will join the IRFU from the start of March, working alongside Nucifora initially as he gets up to speed on the details of the role.

david-humphreys-arrives-ahead-of-the-game-14122019 David Humphreys during his time with Gloucester. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“We reckon it will take three months to hand over,” said Potts. “David Nucifora is really keen to make sure that he hands over everything and imprints on David Humphreys the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ we’ve done certain things because David Nucifora and what he has achieved, so there will be a very good, collaborative, professional handover as you’d expect.

“So, no later than 1 June David Humphreys will become the performance director and David Nucifora, at that point, his final role will be to oversee our women’s and men’s, hopefully, Olympic success, and obviously will still be available to David Humphreys for any other handover issues that may be there.”

As well as planning for the years ahead in terms of actual rugby performance, Potts said the IRFU continues to assess the future of the structural and financial sides of the game.

Like every other union, the IRFU is always searching for ways to increase revenue and Potts welcomes the advent of the Nations Cup from 2026 as one way to do that. He also said the IRFU is open to discussions about possibly playing against the English clubs in a possible British and Irish League, something the English RFU is keen on.

“We as administrators are always looking at ways to make our tournaments more valuable,” said Potts.

“You are asking about the potential of a British and Irish scenario, yeah, that’s something we are open to looking at. We are looking at these things at the moment because the game needs to generate more money. 

“Us as unions and CEOs, I guess it is driving us to be more collaborative and more innovative which we need to be to get more money into the game. It can’t sustain itself without increasing revenues.”

andy-farrell Andy Farrell is in line to lead the Lions in 2025. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Of course, the next British and Irish Lions tour in 2025 is already beginning to loom, with Ireland boss Andy Farrell expected to be named as the tourists’ head coach for the trip to Australia. It also seems likely that a big crop of Irish players will be involved.

The IRFU has part-ownership of the Lions and makes money from the tours, with Potts stating his belief that the Wallabies – currently without a head coach and ranked ninth in the world – will come good in time to make the series compelling.

“When you think about the Lions, in the professional era, we’ve only won two series. So, suddenly to think we’re going to rock up in Australia and have a handy Test series is not, I think, going to be the reality.

“I’ve no doubt Australia will be bouncing back, putting in the investment they need and by the time we get around to the Lions Test series it will be competitive, and I would expect that to be the case.

“I can understand the question, but I’d like to think that Australia will definitely turn up.

“Who doesn’t turn up for a Lions Test series?”

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