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Nucifora's review lays culpability for the World Cup failure on Schmidt's shoulders


Full appraisal: David Nucifora has analysed Ireland’s failure
Full appraisal: David Nucifora has analysed Ireland’s failure

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

David Nucifora didn't mention Joe Schmidt by name once during his 28-minute presentation to the media yesterday, but it was clear that the responsibility for the World Cup failure has been laid squarely at the former head coach's door.

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After all, when the team's tactics, preparations, mental state and skill-sets are being held up as the reasons for the team's drastic under-performance in Japan by the union's performance director's review into the team's overall display, the buck stops with the head coach.

Yesterday was the day the picture of what went wrong in September and October became clearer, with the now retired captain Rory Best earlier shedding light on the players' perspective on what had gone wrong.

Again, Schmidt came out of it badly as a once loyal lieutenant revealed that the coach's overbearing style had contributed to the team's downfall; confirming the theory that his desire for control had inhibited the squad.

Two nights ago, the former Leinster and Ireland supremo received a standing ovation before he'd uttered a word as he continued to promote his best-selling book but, while they appreciate the work he did in the decade he spent in Ireland, it is clear the coaches and players he worked alongside in 2019 hold him primarily responsible for the team's collapse.

Nucifora said this was not about apportioning blame and said it was a collective effort and, thus, a collective failure.

His report reflects the thoughts of every member of the squad and the coaches, who were asked for their opinions on what transpired before and during the World Cup.

There are 50 recommendations out of the process, and they will be kept in-house, but Nucifora's presentation was open and pointed.

They will make uncomfortable reading for the coaching staff, the senior player group and performance coach Enda McNulty, whose job it was to have the team mentally prepared.

Nucifora found that the team suffered from performance anxiety and were unable to cope with the mantle of being the world's best team on the back of their stunning success in 2018.

He said the coaches had taken the decision to try and get 10-15 per cent more from the existing game-plan rather than try to evolve their style of play to encompass more offloading and effective counter-attacking.

While he said that evolution represented a risk, he believes in hindsight that it was worth going with.

The former Australia hooker said the coaches had got their preparation and strategy for Ireland's pivotal opening matches against Scotland and Japan wrong.

They had, he revealed, put all of their eggs in the Scotland basket and, having performed brilliantly in that opening encounter, they couldn't replicate their efforts against the host nation.

Indeed, he confirmed that they had underestimated Jamie Joseph's side's capacity to perform as well as they did and suffered a shock defeat that damaged them mentally and put them on course for the All Blacks in a quarter-final.

He also said that the players' skills need to improve and said Andy Farrell and his coaches would be getting out to the provinces to help develop the top-level players as well as those coming through the system.

Farrell, he said, is not tainted by being part of Schmidt's coaching ticket and will be given some leeway when it comes to the Six Nations.

He'll have to take heed of Best's message that the players must be trusted to prepare for games as the fixture approaches, with the former skipper's revelation that the management called a meeting with the players on the morning of the All Blacks game an indication of the stress they were under and how they transferred that on to the players.

The knock-on effect was a performance full of uncharacteristic errors from an anxious group of players.

Nucifora was keen to praise Schmidt's contribution over his nine years, while Best stressed how good the New Zealander is as a coach, but it's increasingly clear he got 2019 wrong.

"He's poured his heart and soul into Irish rugby for 10 years," Nucifora said.

"So he's gutted by not achieving what we all wanted to achieve.

"Everyone is shattered by not being able to do it, but that's the reality of sport.

"He was incredibly honest about it and his only want is to try and help Andy and the next group of coaches to get better, and he wants the players to get better."

Interestingly, Schmidt's own theory on what happened - that the team looked too far beyond the day-to-day focus and put too much into the World Cup too early - does not get an airing from Nucifora, who stated his belief that Ireland had to get past the quarter-final in order for the season to be a success.

He's not shying away from that even now and, by laying so much of the review on the table, he's given Farrell a clear picture of the pitfalls he needs to avoid in the next four years.

Belfast Telegraph


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