IRFU seek Ulster fly-half solution

The IRFU are hoping to find an Irish-qualified player in Ulster’s search for a new fly-half, but they will not be knocking on Munster’s door to replace Paddy Jackson.

Nucifora: 'Our first option is always to find an Irish solution'

The province has been searching for a No10 after revoking Jackson’s contract in April and have been linked with South African international Elton Jantjies.

The IRFU had hoped to persuade either Ross Byrne or Joey Carbery to leave Leinster for Ravenhill this summer, but both players declined the move, the latter opting to join Munster instead.

While Munster head coach Johann van Graan was understood to have been more than pleasantly surprised at Carbery’s decision, the 22-year-old’s arrival in Limerick now leaves him with five senior fly-halves: Tyler Bleyendaal, Ian Keatley, JJ Hanrahan, and Bill Johnston.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora suggested Ulster would not be seeking to take another province’s playmaker for next season.

Our first option is always to find an Irish solution whatever possible, because we need to make sure the system is strong with Irish options,” said Nucifora.

“The Elton Jantjies thing that was brought up, it didn’t make any sense because we want to try and find an Irish solution.

Yes, we hoped that Joey might take up that opportunity. It didn’t pan out that way, because that was the player’s choice, but was Jantjies the right option?

“For example, he’s going to be playing in the World Cup, no doubt, he’s going to be away for large chunks of time. South Africa, we knew, were recalling their players. At least we’ve got a better line of communication now with the South African coach (former Munster boss Rassie Erasmus). We are aware of a few things, so that didn’t really make any sense.

“Going forward for them, we still hope that there is an Irish option for them that we are working on, but would we consider a foreigner to help them if we had to? Yeah, we would, if it made sense, absolutely, but our preference would be to find a good Irish alternative if we can do that.”

It was suggested Munster’s fly-half stocks were the obvious solution for Ulster, but Nucifora replied: “Not necessarily, not necessarily, no.”

Mention of the other provinces brought laughter from the Australian, as did a return for the exiled Ian Madigan.

“He’s too expensive,” joked Nucifora. “Look, we are always trying to find solutions and we’ve got to think laterally at times, so we try and do that.

We want our teams to be successful. We don’t go out there trying to make things hard for them. We actually go out there to try and make it easier for them and we just ask hard questions at times to try and make sure that the solutions are genuine solutions.

Whoever joins Ulster will arrive at a province that now looks likely to start the season without incoming head coach Dan McFarland. The IRFU are still waiting on word from their counterparts in Scotland about a release for their national team’s forwards coach, whose notice period runs until January.

McFarland is currently on Scotland’s Americas tour with head coach Gregor Townsend and an interim forwards coach in Carl Hogg, while the SRU on Monday announced a permanent replacement in former Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson, who had signed on to join English side Wasps.

Where this coaching merry-go-round leaves former Connacht man McFarland and Ulster, though, is still unresolved but Nucifora insisted money was not the issue between the IRFU and SRU and there was a plan in place to send Ireland coaches to Belfast to assist for as long as was necessary.

“They’re not asking for money. No-one has asked for money,” said the performance director. “At the moment they just wanted to utilise his services.

“We knew that when we signed Dan he had a clause in his contract, and we accepted that, and if it turns out that that’s the way that it ends up being, then that’s fine.

We’ll just deal with that. We do have a bit of a plan B in place if that’s the case, and we’ll just wait and see what the Scottish Rugby Union decide to do with Dan, probably after the tour.

“Obviously we would like, and Ulster would like, for him to be there at the start of the season but if he can’t be well then we’ll accept that and as I say we’ve got something that we’ll do to support Ulster.”

Nucifora added he was optimistic McFarland would be in post ahead of the new year. Calling a January arrival for the head coach “the worst case scenario”, he said: “Do I think it will be January? No I don’t.

“I think there will be a resolution before then so I am not concerned that it’s going to be January. There are lots of things going on in Ulster. There is a major rebuild under way. The coaching team that remains has only been in place for a year so really they’re still new.

“Obviously Dan is coming in as the head coach, there’s a new CEO going to be appointed, there’s a new head of strength and conditioning, a new head of physiotherapy that we are in throes of appointing up there. So it is a total rebuild that’s going on and I think that’s exciting. That’s positive.”


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