‘Nothing less than a place in the semis will do in Japan,’ says Nucifora

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora during the International Rugby match between Ireland and Italy at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Nothing less than a World Cup semi-final appearance in Japan later this year will constitute a good World Cup for Ireland, said a straight-talking David Nucifora, as the IRFU performance director threw down the gauntlet to Joe Schmidt and his squad yesterday.

With Ireland’s 2015 World Cup quarter-final exit to Argentina the major blot on Schmidt’s otherwise stellar Irish head coaching resumé, the New Zealander will not have heard anything yesterday from his immediate boss that has not already been outlined by the head coach himself.

The scars of four years are still fresh in the minds of players and management alike while for supporters it was yet another last-eight elimination that suggested World Cup quarter-finals are as good as it gets for their team.

So it was in that context that Nucifora, when asked what constituted a good World Cup for Ireland, said: “Well I think we’ve got to do better than we’ve done before, that’s the starting point, isn’t it? 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. So we’ve got to get there and we’ve tried to do everything we can.

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.

“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.”

Ireland kick off their pool campaign in Yokohama on September 22 against Six Nations rivals Scotland while their first warm-up match is a home Test against Italy on August 10.

Schmidt will name a preliminary World Cup squad of between 45 and 50 players early next week following Leinster’s Guinness PRO14 final against Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park on Saturday as preparations ramp up for the New Zealander’s final campaign before stepping away from rugby at the end of the tournament.

Current defence coach Andy Farrell will succeed Schmidt as head coach and Nucifora said things would be different without the man who gave Ireland its greatest period of success in his six seasons at the helm, regardless of what happens in Japan.

“Yeah look, I don’t have to talk to yourselves about Joe, his record speaks for itself,” Nucifora said. “It’ll be different, that’s what it’ll be, and all the things that he’s done and left behind are not going to be lost, and that’s what we’ve really focused on.

“We’ve focused on how do we on build on this and Andy Farrell’s appointment, we’re really confident that Andy is going to be able to build on what Joe has done.

“Now, Andy’s a different man to Joe and he’s going to do it a different way, but one of the reasons that we recruited Andy was because one, we believe in him as a coach and as a person, but Andy was super keen to come here all those years ago (in 2016) because he wanted to work with Joe and he feels that he’s a far better coach for the time he’s had with Joe.

“He’s going to be put to the test when he takes over post the World Cup but look, I think that Joe is in Joe mode at the moment, he is so focused for this World Cup and the preparation that they’re about to go into and there’s no other thought in the minds of those coaches other than what’s in front of them.”

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