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Nucifora backs 'experienced' Ireland coaches to make big impact in 2021

The union’s performance director says Ireland will be going out to win next year’s championship.

Andy Farrell speaking to his players before Sunday's clash with Georgia.
Andy Farrell speaking to his players before Sunday's clash with Georgia.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WHEN THE IRFU scheduled David Nucifora’s state-of-the-nation media briefing for yesterday, they surely presumed it would come in the wake of a convincing Ireland win over Georgia.

There might have been an expectation of praising Ireland boss Andy Farrell and his efforts to expand his playing pool, but instead performance director Nucifora arrived onto the virtual press conference to accept that the national team’s performance on Sunday wasn’t “up to speed.”

Indeed, Nucifora had to stress that Farrell and his coaching team of Mike Catt, Simon Easterby, Richie Murphy, and John Fogarty are the right men for the job after criticism and questions from some quarters.

“They’re an experienced coaching team,” said Nucifora. “They’ve been in or around international rugby between them now for many years, either with Ireland or with England or with the Lions.

“So we’ve got an abundance of experience here and if you look around at many other international teams, the years of experience the guys have would stack up against any other coaching group.

“Once they get some stability and continuity going with the team, then obviously we’ll start to see progress.”

While Nucifora pointed out how challenging 2020 has been and highlighted that Farrell and co. could only really be judged on the 2021 Six Nations, he certainly didn’t take any pressure off in laying out the IRFU’s ambitions for that championship.

“We’re going to try to win the thing,” said Nucifora.

“We’ve had some really successful years and we’ll go into next year’s Six Nations with exactly that same ambition – to go out there and try to win the competition.”

The IRFU’s own strategic plan, released in 2018, targeted two Six Nations trophies before 2023 – so that would mean Farrell winning two of the next three titles – as well as World Cup semi-finals or better in 2019 and 2023.

david-nucifora Nucifora is the IRFU's performance director. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Last year, Ireland missed that World Cup target and the pressure will be on Farrell to live up to the lofty goals. If Ireland fail to hit them, then Nucifora’s role as performance director – the main IRFU boss – will come under real scrutiny too.

Given the aim for 2023, some supporters have been questioning the long-term value of Farrell’s selection policy so far.

He has handed out 10 new caps in 2020 and used 40 players overall, but many fans had hoped to see younger players like Craig Casey and Harry Byrne given exposure in this autumn window.

“I wouldn’t say that we’ve got a focus on the 2023 World Cup,” said Nucifora.

“I think you actually have to pretty much win what’s in front of you. Test match rugby is very demanding and people demand results and I think the focus has to be on maintaining performance, getting results whilst, at the same time, being able to plan for what things are going to look like down the track.

“So it’s a combination of everything, you can’t forego one to achieve the other. It is a balancing act and obviously something we’re very mindful of.”

And so, Farrell and Ireland will do their utmost to finish the Autumn Nations Cup on a high in the third-place play-off against Scotland in Dublin on Saturday.

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Ireland’s strong home record against the Scots is a comfort but Gregor Townsend’s men will sense an opportunity. If Ireland lose, this will go down as a rather miserable autumn. 

Farrell’s contract extends all the way through until just after the 2023 World Cup, so clearly the IRFU feel he is the man to lead them into that tournament in France.

“That decision was made many months ago, throughout the process when we knew Joe was leaving,” said Nucifora when asked if the IRFU had interviewed anyone aside from Farrell for the role. “We decided that Andy was the right person for the job and obviously we’re very happy with that decision.”

Ireland’s most recent World Cup experience was an underwhelming one as Schmidt’s stuttering side was soundly beaten by New Zealand in the quarter-finals after a shock pool-stage defeat to hosts Japan.

Nucifora was a central part of the post-tournament review, which cited “performance anxiety” as one of the reasons for Ireland’s poor performances. Mental skills specialist Enda McNulty left the national team set-up after the trip to Japan but has not been formally replaced by the IRFU.

conor-murray-and-peter-omahony-dejected-after-the-game Ireland had a miserable World Cup last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland have continued to look very low on confidence ever since, but Nucifora insisted the issue has been addressed, without going into detail.

“We have got some things in place now, in and around the team and it’s only part of the puzzle as we move forward. It’s a long-term plan that we’ve got for assisting both the national team and our whole playing group development pathway going forward.

“It is going to take some time to be able to put that in place but certainly there are supports that we’ve acted upon around the team currently.”

There are some in Irish rugby who struggle to understand why the review document hasn’t been distributed to everyone involved in the game so that the lessons can permeate into every corner.

“It was distributed to the people who needed to read it,” said Nucifora when asked about the review.

Who?

“People within Irish rugby who were going to benefit from it.”

Nucifora stated his confidence that the lessons will be learned as Irish rugby moves forward.

“We’re well into the planning off the back of that, we’re starting to implement… certainly, having the five-month hiatus from the game slowed things down.

“It hasn’t been a normal year in any way, shape, or form. Some things certainly did go on hold that we’d like to have acted on sooner in many parts of the game that we haven’t been able to deal with at this point.

“Hopefully, as we get some degree of normality back, more of those things will be more obvious for people to see.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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