IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora is excited about what Andy Farrell can achieve with the Ireland team in the coming years, following today’s announcement of a new long-term contract for the national head coach.
Recently honoured as the World Rugby Men’s Coach of the Year, Farrell led Ireland to their fourth Grand Slam earlier this year before putting together a very promising bid for Rugby World Cup glory, which was ended by New Zealand in the last-eight.
Since taking over from Joe Schmidt following the 2019 World Cup, the Wigan man has coached Ireland to 35 wins in 43 Tests (81.4% win rate), a Six Nations title and two Triple Crowns, a first ever Test series win in New Zealand, and a new national record of 17 consecutive Test victories.
With a firm belief that the best is yet to come, Nucifora said: “It’s great news for Irish Rugby, the fact that Andy has signed an extension through to the end of the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia.
“Obviously Andy has proven himself to be a world class coach and has done an outstanding job after he took over after the 2019 World Cup.
“I think for Irish Rugby, the continuity that he’ll bring over the next four years gives a stability and certainty to build on the established platforms that are already there, so we’re really fortunate and excited that it’s going to continue on. It’s great news all round.”
Nucifora spoke at a media briefing at the IRFU High Performance Centre today, as he reflected on the recent Rugby World Cup campaign and 2023 as a whole, as well as looking forward to his final few months in his role, which finishes up with the historic participation of two Ireland Sevens teams at the Paris Olympic Games.
Having worked closely with Farrell for a number of years, the Australian has seen exactly why the 48-year-old is held in such high regard as a rugby coach, and how he consistently manages to get the best out of the players and their supporting cast.
Of the 33-man squad that went to the World Cup in September, 14 of them made their international debuts under Farrell since 2020, including ten of the matchday squad from the 28-24 quarter-final defeat to the All Blacks.
Nucifora continued: “Andy’s loved his time here. Obviously he’s a very sought-after coach on the world scene. He’s loved his time, he’s loved working here, a great working environment that we have, the people we’ve got in that, so it was a reasonably smooth process to extend the contract.
I think Andy is an outstanding coach. His man management skills are second to none. His ability to get the best out of staff and players, the way he brings the group together, gets people on the same page but with the ability to constantly challenge people to improve and better themselves.
“I think that skill-set, he’s obviously got the rugby intellect but he also has the softer skills you need to be able to get the best out of people.
“That’s not easy to find someone who has that all-round set of skills that you need at this level of the game. So we’re very fortunate to have him.”
One member of the Ireland coaching group who is signing off at the end of the current season is Mike Catt. He will continue as assistant coach for the 2024 Guinness Six Nations and the summer tour to South Africa before stepping down.
Nucifora praised attack specialist Catt as ‘an unbelieve contributor to Irish Rugby’ over the last four years, with the team scoring 44 tries across the last two Six Nations tournaments, and their attack also flourishing during the 2022 final Test against New Zealand.
“All of our coaches, bar Mike Catt, are currently contracted to at least the 2025 season,” he explained. “Mike will be leaving us at the completion of this season, he will be doing the Six Nations and the July tour.
“Mike’s made a decision that his family’s moved back to England. I want to thank Mike for the work and the way he’s gone about his job over the last four years.
“He’s been an unbelievable contributor to Irish Rugby and we’re going to be sad to see him move on. We are close to reaching an agreement with a replacement (attack coach), and we’ll be able to announce that in the coming weeks.”
The Union’s outgoing Performance Director believes that the coaching acumen of Catt’s successor, combined with the established and progressive qualities of Farrell, Simon Easterby, Paul O’Connell and John Fogarty, should keep Ireland on the right course as the next World Cup draws nearer.
“Continuity is really important but in the international game, you’ve always got to be looking at how you evolve. I think that’s one of the things that the team’s done really well, the coaching staff have done well in the last four years.
“We’ve evolved the way that we play so even though it’s disappointing to see Mike leave, the decisions we make will be for someone who has the ability to help us evolve our game further.
“Not just in attack but in all facets because the professional game moves at such a pace these days.
“And if you want to stay up or near the top you’ve got to stay ahead of the game with how you approach it. We’ve got a coaching staff that are well able to do that.”
Meanwhile, with Farrell being talked about as a strong candidate to be the next British & Irish Lions head coach, Nucifora says the IRFU would be delighted for him to be involved with the 2025 Lions tour to Australia.
Such an appointment would see him have to take time out from his position with Ireland, akin to Warren Gatland’s coaching of the Lions in both 2013 and 2017 when Rob Howley assumed a caretaker role in charge of Wales.
If Farrell, who was defence coach under Gatland for those two tours, is selected to lead the Lions, Easterby, who spearheaded the Emerging Ireland tour last year in South Africa, or O’Connell would be poised to step in as Ireland’s interim head coach.
“Yeah, we’d be ecstatic if Andy was named coach of the Lions,” admitted Nucifora. “Hopefully that accolade is the next one for him and we’d be more than comfortable with how to deal with it.
“As far as the period of time he might be away from us, that’s still something I think can be discussed if this happens.”