Sport Rugby

Monday 5 December 2016

Nucifora hoping Ireland can reach Sevens heaven

Published 20/05/2015 | 02:30

Attending the launch of the Ireland Men’s Sevens Squad were Matthew D’Arcy (St Mary’s), Tom Daly (Lansdowne) and Cian Aherne (Lansdowne)
Attending the launch of the Ireland Men’s Sevens Squad were Matthew D’Arcy (St Mary’s), Tom Daly (Lansdowne) and Cian Aherne (Lansdowne)

David Nucifora was in Twickenham last Sunday to witness the changing shape of the Sevens circuit.

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It might not have much of an impact on these shores, but the United States beat Australia in the final - having beaten England and South Africa along the way.

Over the course of the weekend 116,219 paid into the London venue to watch the shortened game, which took place at the same time as the English Premiership's final round of fixtures.

It was a reminder of just how far the Sevens game has travelled since Ireland last entered a team on the international circuit in 2006. With a place at the Olympics incentivising non-traditional rugby nations to fast-track improvements to the top of the game, Sevens continues to grow and grow.

Yesterday, IRFU performance director Nucifora was back in Dublin to launch the Irish Sevens programme at the Aviva Stadium.

Asked if he could one day see the stadium hosting an event on the world circuit, he was adamant that some day it could be possible.

"You've got to aspire to be part of that. A Sevens tournament here in Dublin or somewhere in Ireland would be terrific," Nucifora said. "I think it's more than possible."

It might be possible, but it is a long way away. Yesterday was the start of a long road to the top of a sport that is developing and growing at a huge rate.

Ireland are playing catch-up, but have the advantage of having a group of players with all the necessary skills to draw from. The issue now is to coach them how to play Sevens at the top level while simultaneously developing their skills for the 15-a-side code.

"There's so much rugby talent here, with just four teams, so you want to be able to find ways to develop the players," said Nucifora. "I went over to Twickenham and, not only did they have 80,000 people there on Saturday, but the quality continues to improve - the physicality, the skill continually gets better.

"A lot of the components involved in preparing players to a professional level are sitting there in Sevens tournaments. It's not just the physical development, it's the preparation to become a professional player that we'll get out of it if we can get to that high level."

While the prohibitive cost was always cited as the reason Ireland opted out of Sevens, Nucifora says his "shoe-string" operation has borrowed a bit from other budgets and will not do much damage to the union coffers.

He would not be drawn on an overall figure, but with a squad drawn from the academies and clubs there won't be a central contracting system in place unless the game grows far enough for Ireland to reach the very top.

That won't happen for three or four years at the very least, with Ireland entering the system in European Division C. Their first tournament will take place in Bosnia and Herzegovina and will pit Ireland against the likes of Macedonia, Serbia and Belarus.

A top-four finish would see Ireland rise to Division B, where Norway and Croatia sit, and a victory there would allow Ireland into the European repêchage in Lisbon to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

That would include the top teams in Europe excluding the already qualified Great Britain, and the winner will qualify for Rio. The final chance would be a decent placing in Lisbon, which would allow Ireland to compete in the worldwide repêchage.

"The progression through to the World Series is a long time-line," said IRFU director of Sevens Anthony Eddy.

"The Olympic qualification could be sooner than that, we definitely have the opportunity to look at 2016 but 2020 is a more realistic target. You never know."

Irish Independent

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