IRFU wanted to sign Tadhg Furlong to longer contract, says Nucifora

Performance director satisfied with retention rate and hopes for imminent return of fans

The IRFU performance director David Nucifora admitted that they wanted to re-sign Tadhg Furlong through to the next World Cup and, while remaining confident that the Lions tighthead will do so, he also intimated that the Irish team cannot be dependent on any one player.

“The players all looked at the contract negotiations during this period a bit differently,” said Nucifora after expressing satisfaction that over 90 per cent of the 100-odd players out of contract this summer were resigned between January and March, with the remainder tied up not long afterwards during a “really stressful time” for the Union, its staff and the players. “Very few we set out to keep were lost.”

As for Furlong, whose negotiations went on the longest before he agreed a one-year extension, Nucifora said: “We’d have loved to have contracted Tadhg for longer than one year, but that was his choice to sit back and say ‘well, maybe the landscape will have changed in 12 months and it will be different’ And that’s his prerogative to do that.

“We’re happy that he’s staying on, and hopefully when we get back to the negotiating table with he and other players we’ll be able to convince him that staying on is the best thing for their rugby. But that’s a choice that they’ll have to make.


“All we can do is operate within the financial boundaries and capacity that we have, and I suppose what we’ve always tried to do in the last five or six years is to make sure that we have continued to develop players so that we’re hopefully not over dependent on any one particular player, as much as they are all important to us.

“When you go back a few years when Mike Ross was our starting tighthead, who would have thought we’d have two tightheads going away on a Lions tour. So player development is unbelievably important to us and underpins a lot of what we do.

“We’re hopeful. I know the players appreciate what Irish rugby does for them but at the end of the day it’s an individual decision they all have to make as to whether they want to stay.”

Nucifora admitted that tough decisions had to be made with regard to pay cuts and voluntary redundancies across the Union’s and the provinces’ staff which will be felt for a while to come, and that the return of crowds, hopefully to capacity for the November Tests against New Zealand, Argentina and one other tier two country, will be a lifeblood for the Union.

“It’s obvious we need crowds back and before I say anything else it would be wrong for me not to thank Sport Ireland and the Government who have been brilliant in supporting the IRFU and sport.

“We will have crowds back in during these July matches, we just have to work out how many, and then hopefully close to full houses by the time the November internationals roll around.

“The provinces desperately need crowds, they are their lifeblood, and the sooner we can fill stadium with people it will go a long way to filling the hole. We lost €35 million last year, and will lose €30million this year. That is an unbelievably significant amount of money, and the return of crowds will help but this is long term. It will take years for us to claw back, but we hope we’ve streamlined ourselves to be ready.”

The cancellation of successive summer tours to Australia and Fiji this year, compounded by the cessation of all underage internationals for the last 15 months, was particularly damaging for the player pathway.

“Touring is an important part of team development. It’s the same for everyone around the world, everyone’s been hit by the same restrictions.

“It all depends on how well internally your system works, we’d be confident our system has continued to work hard on developmental players as best we can.

“We have a good flow-through of players into our system, and they’ll be exposed as much as possible to the highest level. But to play Test rugby you’ve got to play, play, play - it’s a different level, and players have to get experience to get better. So we have to maximise these games against Japan and the USA and again in November.”

As to how the Union can help the Irish women’s team to bridge what seems a sizeable gap between themselves and the English and French teams, Nucifora said: “We’ve got to keep working away at developing the infrastructure here in Ireland, that’s the key to it. It’s about broadening the base.

“We’re working hard to develop competitive structures and the model for girls coming through, broadening the roles of developmental coaches so they can take more responsibility for development of female players.

“It’s all about competition structure and building the base. If the game wants to keep developing at the elite end we have to have the capacity to meet that. It’s a long term thing, there’s no short-term fix.”