World Rugby

Australian Rugby's Crossroad: Could Schmidt And Nucifora Save The Day?

Australian Rugby's Crossroad: Could Schmidt And Nucifora Save The Day?

Amidst a leadership upheaval, Australian rugby eyes Joe Schmidt for Wallabies' coach. David Nucifora emerges as a contender for a high-performance role.

Nov 22, 2023 by Philip Bendon
Australian Rugby's Crossroad: Could Schmidt And Nucifora Save The Day?

Australian rugby finds itself in turbulent waters, with the recent removal of Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan, following the Eddie Jones debacle. 

The sport Down Under is grappling with leadership uncertainties as it searches for both a head of high performance and a successor for the Wallabies' head coach position. 

In this state of flux, former Ireland boss Joe Schmidt emerges as a potential savior, according to insights shared by Eoin Toolan, a former Ireland and Melbourne Rebels performance analyst who spoke on the Irish podcast The 42 Weekly

With Jones no longer at the helm, the pivotal question arises: who will guide the Wallabies to future success? 

Toolan suggests that Schmidt, with his successful tenure with the All Blacks, could be the right fit. Schmidt's impact on New Zealand Rugby has been significant, and his ability to elevate teams to the World Cup final is not overlooked. 

“There’s a few names being bandied about," Toolan said. “Does it need to be an Aussie? I’m not so sure. I think you need to get the right guy into the position. I’ve got to say, I think the job Joe Schmidt did with New Zealand… I don’t think they’re making a World Cup final if Joe Schmidt doesn’t come in and bail out Ian Foster. 

“That would be an intriguing appointment, particularly if it was in tandem with David Nucifora. We saw the positive impact they had on Irish rugby."

While speculation swirls around Schmidt, other names enter the fray as potential candidates for the Wallabies coaching role. Dan McKellar, with experience at Leicester, and Stephen Larkham, who impressed in his first year back at the Brumbies, are mentioned. 

“But there will be multiple candidates," Toolan added. "Does Dan McKellar come back from Leicester, or does he need some time out of the Australia game and a chance to start to build some experience in the Northern Hemisphere? That would probably be a good thing for the longevity of his career. 

“Stephen Larkham is the other name being bandied about down here. He had a pretty good first year back at the Brumbies and learned a lot from his time in Munster. 

“So, there’s no shortage of candidates. It’s still an attractive role, given that it’s the 2025 Lions into a home World Cup in 2027, and the talent is there, if they’re coached correctly. They probably need to tweak the Giteau Law (for players based abroad) and look at what they do with Super Rugby.” 

The discussion broadens to consider whether a candidate needs to be Australian, or if an outsider with the right qualifications and experience would be more suitable. 

As Rugby Australia seeks stability, the focus turns to finding a head of high performance. David Nucifora, the current IRFU performance director, emerges as a strong contender. 

Toolan believes Nucifora's experience and impending departure from Ireland after the Olympics make him an ideal fit. However, complications may arise if Rugby Australia pursues Nucifora, who previously held a similar role with the Brumbies. 

Despite Nucifora's suitability, Toolan notes potential challenges, including uncertain current relationships and timing issues. 

“He would be the ideal fit, but I have no understanding of what the current relationship is like,” Toolan said. “The timing wouldn’t be ideal. He is committed to Paris 2024, and when you think of the Lions series in 2025, it’s not that far away, 18 or 19 months, so they really need to get their house in order. I’m not sure if there would be an early release for Nucifora, but there is an urgency needed with this appointment. 

“You want the right guy in the seat, and Nucifora would strike you as the most suitable appointment, but we’ll see in the next two to three weeks what develops.” 

With Nucifora committed to Paris 2024, the urgency to fill the position becomes evident, especially with the Lions series in 2025 looming on the horizon. The delicate balance of securing the right candidate, while adhering to timelines, becomes a crucial consideration for Rugby Australia. 

Australian rugby stands at a crossroads, facing the daunting task of appointing key figures to lead the sport forward. 

The Wallabies' coaching role, and the head of high-performance position, are pivotal in shaping the future trajectory of Australian rugby. 

As the nation navigates this period of uncertainty, the decisions made in the coming weeks undoubtedly will influence the sport's landscape, with potential ripple effects leading up to the 2025 Lions series and the home World Cup in 2027.