IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora confirmed at a media briefing today that John McKee has joined the Ireland Women’s coaching team on a full-time basis.
McKee was brought in as a technical advisor and forwards coach for their summer tour to Japan. He ‘really enjoyed working with the group and the whole backroom team’, and said there were ‘very good signs for the squad going forward’.
The Wellington-born coach has now been signed up as a senior coach to the Ireland Women’s side, supporting head coach Greg McWilliams, and the pair will coordinate the Women’s 15s programme at the IRFU High Performance Centre.
“John, who went on the tour to Japan as a consultant, is coming on board full-time,” announced Nucifora. “He’s an incredibly experienced coach. For over 20 years, he’s coached professionally. He’s been in Clermont, he was in Connacht so he has Irish connections out there.
“He coached at the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups with Tonga and Fiji respectively. He’s coming on board as a senior coach to the Women’s team, supporting Greg (McWilliams).
“John will also be working full-time in the Women’s programme that will run out of the HPC as the coordinator of that programme with Greg. So we’ve added some significant firepower into that space.”
2023 is shaping up to be a huge year for the Ireland Women – their TikTok Women’s Six Nations schedule includes home games against France and England – and the dawn of the new WXV international competition which will be played next September and October.
World Rugby’s three-tier WXV will feature 16 teams and form a key part of the Rugby World Cup 2025 qualification process. To play in the top-tier WXV 1, Ireland need a top three finish in the Six Nations.
To aid with preparations for their Six Nations campaign, an Irish team will play in a three-team Celtic Cup competition in January and February, according to Nucifora.
“To start with, the Women’s Celtic Cup will have three teams in it – one from Ireland, one from Wales, and one from Scotland,” he revealed. “The Irish team will be made up of players that are based here on the island.
“We’ll be looking to use that as a competition to try and develop more of the up-and-coming players. That will be their match opportunity, and obviously the players that are full-time in the programme here will be available to play in that as well.
“That will be year one. Year two that competition will build to a six-team competition where there’ll be two teams from each of those countries. Beyond that, our ambition over three to five years is to build that to four Irish teams.”
Reacting to today’s news regarding McKee, Ireland head coach McWilliams dubbed it a ‘very important appointment for the Women’s programme’.
The Dubliner, who guided the girls in green to wins over Italy, Scotland and Japan during his first year in charge, tweeted: “Absolutely delighted to have John come on board full-time with the Ireland Women’s 15s programme from November 1.
“A brilliant mind and one of the game’s true gentlemen. Grateful and so, so happy.”
From a player’s point of view, flanker Edel McMahon gave a sense of the impact McKee had during the historic tour to Japan in August, agreeing that he was ‘brilliant to work with’.
“John is very direct and clear in his coaching points, so it’s very easy to know what he’s talking about – this is what we’re doing and then we go out and rep it,” she explained at the time.
“There’s no grey area around his coaching. I like that, it’s very straightforward. So, yeah, he’s been very good for us.
“He’s gelled very well with the squad. You can always pick his brain, especially from my point of view on the breakdown and the lineout.”