David Nucifora reveals World Cup target, opens up on Munster coaching search and hits out at Rob Kearney's manager
A first World Cup semi-final is the starting point of Ireland's World Cup ambitions, according to IRFU performance director David Nucifora.
The Australian, who this week committed to a new three-year deal with the union, believes Joe Schmidt and his team have been set up to go further than any Irish team in Japan.
Ireland must come out of a pool featuring Scotland, Japan, Samoa and Russia and are then highly likely to face New Zealand or South Africa in a quarter-final to take the all-important step.
Schmidt is expected to name a training squad of around 45 players early next week and Nucifora is challenging the head coach to take Ireland into uncharted territory.
"Well, I think we've got to do better than we've done before, that's the starting point, isn't it?" he said.
"We've got to get to a semi-final and obviously we want to go further than that if we can.
"But I think we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought that anything worse than a semi-final is going to be good for us.
"Hopefully we get the bounce of the ball or a bit of luck from the injury gods along the way, but we've tried to do everything we can do to prepare and like any high-level competition, you do need an element of luck along the way in those tournaments.
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"So hopefully we get that but, you know, we will have felt that we have prepared really, really well and that we'll be in a good position to deliver a really good performance in this tournament."
Nucifora's remit is wide-ranging and he spoke about the future of Munster's coaching ticket, the plight of the women's XVs and club game as well as Rob Kearney's future during a briefing yesterday.
He indicated that Munster need a director of rugby-style appointment to ease the burden on Johann van Graan.
Munster are on the lookout for replacements for Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery, but Nucifora says Van Graan will also need help with off-field arrangements.
“We’re going to need someone who’s going to be looking at the back-line attack positions. We need now someone around the scrum, but I think also we want to look at someone that gives a coach support,” he said.
“I mean you can look at the different coaching structures around the country, and it’s not just on the field, it’s off the field that the coaches need support. There’s a whole range of different things that come outside of the actual coaching part of it.
“You can’t take the brunt of that yourself for what is it, nine/10 months of the year that we’re going. You’ve got to be able to share that around.
“You’ve got to have people you can confide in, that can steer you, that can give you direction, so it’s all of those things and you need those people within your group, and that’s what we’re trying to build.”
And on Kearney, Nucifora hit out at the player’s manager David McHugh who this week expressed concerns over whether a deal could be reached with the IRFU.
However, the performance director suggested that a deal to keep the Louth man is in the offing.
“I haven’t dealt with that fellow who was his agent, to be honest. I’ve never had a conversation with him so I don’t really know where he came from into it. I didn’t realise he was Rob’s agent,” he said.
“So the conversations I’ve had are pretty much on the same page and I’d suggest that we’re very, very close and we’re sorting out a few things at the moment. We’ll see where we get to but I’d be hopeful.”
While he said the focus of the women’s XVs game remains on growing playing numbers, Nucifora also said the terms of employment for sevens players won’t change when they go on the World Series circuit next season.
“What they were doing last year would equate to the same as what they were doing this year,” he said.