Nucifora, who oversees all contract negotiations for national team and provincial coaches, said yesterday that the search for a successor to replace Erasmus, who is returning to the South African Rugby Union as its Director of Rugby and taking Munster defence coach and trusted ally Jacques Nienaber with him, had narrowed to one candidate.
He expressed hope that talks were getting close to a successful conclusion.
Speaking at Aviva Stadium yesterday during a media briefing as head of the IRFU’s high-performance unit, Nucifora also said he hoped there would be a smooth and seamless transition period from Erasmus to the incoming appointee.
That handover would be made even easier if his successor is former assistant Dave Wessels, a fellow South African and former Western Force head coach whom Erasmus confirmed last week was a candidate and said would be a good fit for Munster.
The hope within Munster is that a permanent successor can be found for Erasmus, who will leave once the new person has been installed at the province’s High Performance Centre in Limerick, although it has been stressed throughout that there will be no rush to appoint the “right” candidate and a temporary replacement may be appointed on an interim basis while the search continued.
Nucifora, however, is hopeful Munster have got their man and he said: “We have spoken to a number of people over the last number of months and we’re well advanced. I’d be hopeful that we’ve got some news in the short term and I’m hopeful it would be permanent.
“We are working diligently on it and we feel we are close to being able to do something but in any negotiation, things can move or change at the last minute. You never quite know until it’s done but we feel that we’re close. There’s good progress made.
“At the moment we are talking to one person but we have spoken to multiple people over a period of time. At the moment we’re speaking to only one person which is why I can say we’re getting closer.”
With the list of available, suitable candidates in the rugby world a limited one, a temporary replacement may have to be considered, Nucifora conceded, particularly if the search extends beyond a perceived final departure date for Erasmus and defence coach Nienaber of December.
“You have to keep your mind open to everything. Our intention is to get a permanent person. If that weren’t to happen we’d have to consider the other. Is it our preference? No, it’s not.
“Are we closer to getting to having something? Yes, we are.
“I am hopeful we’ll have an answer to this sooner rather than later so that we can engineer a really smooth handover between the coaching groups. You don’t normally get that chance. It’s normally, ‘he’s gone, you’re in, try and work out what they were doing and off you go’ whereas this is a coordinated approach that hopefully will go well.”
During his opening address to the media yesterday Nucifora said he understood why Erasmus felt the pull to return home to South Africa and the employers he left to join Munster on a three-year contract in June 2016.
“Obviously we’re disappointed Rassie and Jacques are going back to South Africa. It is understandable when someone is offered a national role. To stand in their way is not practical or sensible. When you employ people who are as good as those guys it’s an ongoing risk that could always eventuate.
“We are working very hard with Munster to look at suitable replacements. It’s important we get it right, that we don’t just have one for the sake of having one. Our emphasis is to make sure we get the right person. The coaching market is always a pretty fickle thing, who’s available when and you’ve got to work as best you can within those parameters.
“We’ve done a lot of work to make sure we get the right person to build on the great work Rassie and Jacques have done over the last 15 months with Munster.
“The aim is when that person is found we engineer a really strategic handover between the coaching groups to make sure it’s as seamless as it possibly can be, which is not something you always get in professional rugby but we hope we can achieve that to make it as smooth a handover as we possibly can.”
Erasmus triggered an exit clause in his IRFU contract to quit his post midway through his contract but Nucifora said that was part and parcel of the professional game and proper due diligence had been carried out before hiring the former Springbok.
He illustrated the pressure Erasmus was under to return with a story about a conversation he had with SARU chief executive Jurie Roux during Ireland’s June 2016 tour to South Africa.
“I think the first person I saw there at a function I went to was the CEO of SARU and the first thing he said to me, because we had just announced Rassie going to Munster, was ‘well done, but we’re going to doing everything to try and get him back at some point’.
“With good people, of course they’re going to try and get them back. It was a feather in the cap for Munster to get Rassie in the first place. The coaching market, for the very best, it’s a small market and if someone’s good, there are continually people out there trying to work out how they can have a piece of that. We were well aware of that.
“The job Rassie’s gone back to is different to the job he came out of (high performance manager) and that’s critical to the decision he made, I think. They (South Africa) had a very tough year last year and they were desperate to have a bloke of his quality go back and lead their ship.
“Not only is there just the professional side of it but the guy is a South African and he’s been asked and chased and chased to go back and fulfil something that they desperately need. So there are other attachments, emotionally, that impact on the decision-making of the guys. So it’s a very difficult situation.
“Are we happy about it? No. Do we accept it? Yes, and we just have to move on and make the best of it we can.”