Sunday 19 November 2017

Grand master strengthens his ability to make the right moves

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

You could class the following as strange but true. Up until fairly recently the IRFU hadn't a rashers what was going on in the four provinces on the issue of succession planning. A fairly important topic, you'd agree. We knew that they are largely in the dark when it comes to the club game, either what the clubs need or how they conduct their business, but we hadn't realised that it extended up the line to the professional teams.

So, for example, nobody in head office would have a handle on where the next batch of scrumhalves were coming from, if we had too many in one province and too few in another. Or indeed if they were any use. The only time a light would be shone into this dark corner would be when one of the provincial CEOs would pull up outside the IRFU office on Lansdowne Road, asking about the chances of buying in a player from overseas. In which case he would be asked why he didn't have a local lad up to the job, and the conversation would take off from there.

Back in the amateur days we used to launch missiles at the same office over the union's lack of interest in compiling a data base of Ireland-qualified players in the southern hemisphere. You might think it's a small step from there to having no data base on your own players in your own country, yet we must admit to being surprised that, 20 years after the wall came down on amateurism, it still didn't exist.

It does now. We don't want to portray David Nucifora as the Angel Gabriel, bringing us the message from on high that we needed to pull our heads in, but if the IRFU's performance director achieves nothing else in his time in Ireland then having attended to this piece of basic housekeeping is a plus. And an embarrassment to the rest of us that it wasn't in place when he arrived just over two years ago.

In the new order the provinces are obliged to update their succession plan every three months, and throw it across Nucifora's desk. He then assesses the lie of the land around the country, and can make informed decisions on who needs to play where and when. This information extends to financials too, so you can benchmark a player's progress through the system against what it's costing to keep him on board.

Armed with this information, Nucifora can see the CEOs coming before they even swing onto Lansdowne Road. And the thorny issue of whether or not a province really needs a marquee name from overseas becomes easier to handle.

The default position of the CEOs after a barren European campaign is to look abroad. The current template of 4+1 - four stars and a project player to become Ireland-qualified through residency - won't be loosening up any time soon however. And indeed it might get tighter.

"Realistically, can we afford four top-class international foreign players?" Nucifora asks. "I doubt it. I don't think that is achievable going forward. We might have to look at how we work it in balancing that out, or maybe look at it on a team-by-team basis as to what model might fit one of the teams better than another."

This is not what the provinces want to hear. Sustaining their argument will be influenced greatly by the success or otherwise of Nucifora's plans to mix and match. For example, if Cian Kelleher's journey west this summer works out, then it will strengthen the performance director's hand to shift a few more pieces around the chess board. Nucifora makes out like he was merely an observer in that operation, but it's more likely he was all over it like a rash. And up to speed now with the info on exactly who and what is coming over the horizon, expect more of the same.

Sunday Indo Sport

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