Wednesday 18 September 2019

'We've handed over the game we've loved for 150 years to Schmidt and Nucifora' - George Hook blasts IRFU power structure

Tom Rooney

George Hook believes that Joe Schmidt and IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora wield a disproportionate amount of power and influence over fate of the game in Ireland and, that the input of others, now counts for little.

Following Saturday’s 21-10 loss to England in Twickenham, Ireland were left contemplating successive Six Nations defeats for the first time in the Schmidt era. Until now, the Kiwi coach and his side only suffered solitary losses in their Championship winning campaigns of the previous two seasons.

There were positives to be taken from what proved a bruising encounter against Eddie Jones’ side, namely the debuts of Stuart McCloskey, Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane, but morale and confidence are at their lowest since Declan Kidney’s departure.

Over the last month, Irish Independent columnist George Hook has been greatly critical of Schmidt and his methods, but speaking on the exclusive live post game stream to Richie McCormack, he also pointed to the larger problems he sees in the Irish game. 

Namely, what he thinks to be a duopoly of control shared by Schmidt and David Nucifora, as bestowed on them by the IRFU.

Nucifora, who performed a similar role in his native of Australia, has been charged with overseeing, among many other facets, the development of the eligible talent and, crucially, contract negotiations with players.

A dejected Jamie Heaslip
A dejected Jamie Heaslip

Hook is unhappy with the status quo and he believes it to be a radical break with tradition, without an interactive discourse. 

“Irish rugby is run by two people: David Nucifora, who is a kind of performance coach, and Joe Schmidt, the Irish coach.

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 “I don’t believe that’s a good idea. In Irish rugby football union, all theses guys in blazers have been criticised, but now they’re irrelevant because they have no role to play.

“We have handed our game that we have loved for 150 years, to two guys and said ‘off you go, do what you like.’ We have no input into it. And those of us outside, the external critics Schmidt talks about, we’re supposed to keep quiet, to sit dumb and allow what we see in front of us happen.

“Allow poor selection, limited tactical appreciation, an inability to score tries and to lose games. What am I supposed to do? Sit here and say ‘great, isn’t it wonderful, wrap the green flag around him.’”

Furthermore, he said that it will be to the financial detriment of the IRFU, were Ireland to continue to employ their current brand of rugby without a marked improvement in results. Why? Because fans will not be drawn to the Aviva Stadium for much longer.

“Ultimately, you have to get people to sit on seats and pay a 100 quid for it, in order for the union to survive and pay the wages.

“Ultimately, if we continue to play rugby like this and don’t succeed, as Munster are already finding that you can’t fill Thomond Park if you don’t qualify for the knockout stages (Champions Cup), it’ll be the same for us. If we don’t perform, we don’t get people sitting on seats.

“Modern day professional sport is very different from amateur sport. When it was amateur and we were all involved with clubs, the clubs gave us tickets and we went along. This is corporate, this is about profit and loss and, in order to generate revenue, you have to be successful,” he said.

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