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'New Zealand did everything they possibly could to get Joe Schmidt back'

David Nucifora says ‘there was a lot of pressure’ from New Zealand in an effort to tempt Ireland’s head coach away last year.

RASSIE ERASMUS IS the more pertinent example, but David Nucifora is more than accustomed to dealing with outside interest in coaches under the IRFU umbrella.

Last year, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt agreed an extension to his contract that will keep him wearing shamrock-emblazoned kit through the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Joe Schmidt Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Even after signing that fresh deal however, Schmidt’s name remains on the lips of NZRU boss Steve Tew when he talks about potential replacements for Steve Hansen, who will walk away from the All Blacks after the 2019 World Cup.

On a day when updates about the recruitment of Erasmus’ replacement dominated Nucifora’s address with the media at the Aviva Stadium, the parallel between the outgoing Munster coach and the double Six Nations-winner was unavoidable as Nucifora noted the lengths the NZRU went through in the effort to tempt Schmidt back home.

Nucifora is reluctant to begin contract negotiations with the Kiwi two years out from the World Cup. However, he does expect another hard sell from the NZRU to attempt to lure Schmidt back home to take up a role with a Super Rugby side or within the All Black backroom.

“You guys have all spoken with Joe, no point having a discussion he doesn’t want to have,” the Australian said when asked if there had been discussions about extending Schmidt’s existing deal.

David Nucifora Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“New Zealand did everything they possibly could to get Joe back, absolutely everything, a lot didn’t bubble to the surface, but there was a lot of pressure.

“He has been away a long, long time I suppose that will be a decision he’ll make closer to the time, we’re not going to be bugging him with two years left on his current contract.”

In contrast to Schmidt, Erasmus didn’t even have a year to settle in Ireland before he was offered the director of rugby post with SARU – a role he describes as a ‘dream job’ and he will be the first person to hold it.

Despite losing Erasmus after just 18 months with Munster, Nucifora does not regret hiring a man of such pedigree.

“We were in South Africa last June, the first person I saw was the CEO of SARU (Jurie Roux) and he said: ‘well done, but we’re going to be doing everything we can to, at some point, get him back’.

“And you expect that, it was a feather in the cap of Munster to get him in the first place. It’s a small market at that level and when you’ve got someone as good as that, people are going to be continually trying to work out how to get a piece of that.

Rassie Erasmus Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“The job will be different to what he came out of and that was critical to the decision that was made, (the Springboks) had a bad year last year and desperate to have a guy of his quality go back and lead the ship.

“The guy is a South African and he’s been asked and was chased and chased to go back and fill something they feel they need, so it was a very difficult situation. Are we happy about it? No. Can we accept it? Yes.”

David Nucifora Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Technically, Munster and the IRFU’s recruitment process is ongoing, but Nucifora hopes to have an appointment to announce in the coming weeks with former Western Force coach David Wessels now looking most likely to fit the bill.  Nucifora adds that the new man will arrive on a permanent basis to help for a smooth transition from the short Erasmus era – as opposed to appointing a caretaker head coach while waiting on a permanent option to arrive next summer.

We’ve spoken to a number of people over the last number of months, well advanced at the moment, we’re hopeful we’d have news in the short term.”

“You’ve got to keep your mind open to everything, our intention is to get a permanent person, if that doesn’t happen to do we consider the other? Yes we would.

“Are we getting close to getting someone? Yes we are, I’m hopeful we’ll have an answer sooner rather than later and that we can engineer a well-delivered handover between the coaching groups that will move in and move out.

“You don’t normally get that chance. It’s normally: ‘he’s out, you’re in, try and work out what they’re doing and off you go…’ whereas this is a coordinated approach that will hopefully go on.”

Asked specifically about the notice period clause that allowed Erasmus cut his time in Ireland so short, Nucifora points out that it can work for both sides and shrugged off the sense that it’s problematic.

He adds: “ultimately, trying to hold somebody in a position they don’t want to be in, when they want to go somewhere else, I don’t think there are many organisations around the world who will hold their people back from attaining those honours.”

And there may come a day in 2019 when those words are applied to another sought-after coach who has made his name in Ireland.

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Sean Farrell

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