Despite being severely disrupted during the global pandemic, IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora insists the club game remains an essential part of the Irish rugby landscape.
With the exception of a short period that was designated to the newly-created Energia Community Series in Autumn of last year, grassroots action has been effectively on ice since Covid-19 took its grip on these shores in March 2020 with only the elite form of the sport permitted to take place on a continuous basis.
There is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for clubs, however, with the return of matches pencilled in for July. This will come as a massive relief to those invested in the domestic game and with Colin McEntee, IRFU Director Of Rugby Development, working tirelessly to get things back up to speed, Nucifora is confident it can continue to thrive over the next few years.
“Club rugby has a really important part to play. The fact that our players haven’t been able to play in club rugby for the last 15 or 18 months really hurts everyone. It hurts the clubs, it hurts the players, the development of those players. That has a knock-on effect to the Provinces because the players aren’t getting the amount of game time that we’d like them to get,” Nucifora explained in a media briefing on Wednesday.
“Just for the game in general, for people who aren’t aspirational but just enjoy playing the game, we need to have the club game reopened and started again because people’s engagement and attachment to the game happens through the clubs primarily. I know it’s been unbelievably tough for them being shut down for that long.
“But I do know in speaking with Collie that the engagement with the clubs has been really good during the shutdown period. They’ve done a lot of work online with the clubs to keep and stay engaged with them.
“I know since the opening of the club game has been announced that the report back from the clubs and to me via Collie is that things are actually going really well and people are unbelievably enthusiastic about getting up and running again.”
Over the course of an extensive virtual press conference, Nucifora also spoke about the current IRFU Central Contract model in the face of ongoing financial challenges presented by Covid-19.
“We’ve revisited that a number of times and looked at the different models that could work and at the moment we haven’t been able to come up with anything that is better than the model that we have,” said Nucifora.
“The model is strong, it helps us retain our players, it helps us keep the Provinces strong, which is important, and I suppose that crosses over into our unwritten rule of only selecting players that are playing in Ireland.
“If we were to loosen it, that would make the provinces vulnerable to losing a lot more players because they would have the ability to come back and play for Ireland and not necessarily contribute to Irish rugby through their provinces which would have a knock-on, detrimental effect.
“For the IRFU, in this time of financial hardship, would it be a good idea? It probably would, you know, to pass on the cost of our top players to English, French or Japanese clubs, but that’s not the right thing to do.
“The right thing to do is to support the Provinces, keep the game healthy in Ireland, and maintain what we are doing. I think our model has proven to be quite strong.”
A native of Australia – who earned two caps for the Wallabies during his own playing career – Nucifora has been with the IRFU since May 2014. His current deal with the union is set to expire in a year’s time and he admitted that he will have some big decisions to make regarding his future between now and then.
“I think it’s something that I’ll consider over the next 12 months, but I think at the moment Covid has affected us all in different ways, and the stresses and strains that it’s put on everyone. Personally, it has put different stresses on me, separated from my family, which is difficult,” Nucifora said.
“From a professional point of view we have worked unbelievably hard in the last 15 months just to keep the game afloat. Would I like to have seen us further down the road with the strategies that we’ve put in place? Yes I would. But we’ve had to do what we’ve had to do to keep going and that’s probably held us back from achieving some of the things that I would have liked to have achieved.
“So are there more things that I would like to do? Yes there are and that’s something that I’ve just got to weigh up over the next 12 months as to whether that’s the right thing to do on a personal front, and on a professional front whether it’s the right thing to do as well and if the IRFU want me to remain doing what I’m doing. So they’re decisions that I’ll make in the coming months.”
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Andy Farrell Names 40-Player Squad For New Zealand Tour
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has named an extended 40-player squad for the five-match tour of New Zealand this summer.
Jonathan Sexton will captain the squad in what will be Ireland’s first tour since their memorable 2018 series win over Australia.
Farrell’s men will play three Test matches against New Zealand in Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington, as well as two fixtures against the Māori All Blacks – in Hamilton ahead of the first Test, and in Wellington following the second Test.
Ireland have not toured New Zealand since 2012 and have never recorded a victory over the All Blacks in Aotearoa.
Five players in the current squad toured New Zealand in 2012 – Cian Healy, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Sexton and Keith Earls – while Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, O’Mahony, Murray, Sexton and Robbie Henshaw were part of the British & Irish Lions squad that toured New Zealand in 2017.
There are five uncapped players included in Ireland’s summer tour squad – the Leinster trio of Ciaran Frawley, Joe McCarthy and Jimmy O’Brien, Munster prop Jeremy Loughman and Connacht flanker Cian Prendergast.
There are a further 12 players included who have won less than 10 caps for Ireland – Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, Gavin Coombes, Mack Hansen, James Hume, Michael Lowry, Ryan Baird, Dave Heffernan, Tom O’Toole, Dan Sheehan, Nick Timoney and Kieran Treadwell.
Robert Baloucoune, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell and Ronan Kelleher have been ruled out of the tour through injury.
Ireland head coach Farrell commented:
This is the start of our Rugby World Cup campaign and it is going to be a fantastic challenge for our group facing five massive tests across the three weeks.
Due to Covid we haven’t had an opportunity to tour, and touring plays a massive role in teams gelling together and building cohesion on and off the field.
This group could also be the last to play a Test series in New Zealand which makes it even more special.
“We will learn so much about the players and the group as a whole as we have to front up for five incredibly tough fixtures, far from the comforts of home and in grounds where the home support will greatly outnumber travelling Irish fans.”
Connacht senior coach Peter Wilkins will join the national coaching group for the duration of the summer tour to assist in team preparation.
Mick Kearney has been reappointed as men’s national team manager following Gerard Carmody’s promotion to the IRFU Director of Operations role.
Mick previously held the position between 2012 and 2016 and will fulfil the role through to the end of the Rugby World Cup in France next year.
Geraldine Armstrong will lead team operations for the tour to New Zealand, while Carmody will continue to support team operations and planning for Rugby World Cup 2023.
Ireland’s summer tour fixtures will be broadcast live on Sky Sports across Ireland, and there will also be live radio commentary on RTÉ Radio.
IRELAND 2022 SUMMER TOUR SQUAD:
Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 37
Harry Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster) 2
Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) 32
Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster) 5
Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 96
Ciaran Frawley (Skerries/Leinster) *
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 17
Mack Hansen (Connacht) 4
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 57
James Hume (Banbridge/Ulster) 3
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster) 20
Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 30
James Lowe (Leinster) 12
Michael Lowry (Banbridge/Ulster) 1
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 96
Jimmy O’Brien (Naas/Leinster) *
Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 42
Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) (capt) 105
Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster) 8
Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht) 23
Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster) 30
Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 27
Gavin Coombes (Young Munster/Munster) 2
Caelan Doris (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 17
Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 57
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 116
Dave Heffernan (Buccaneers/Connacht) 6
Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster) 68
Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 26
Jeremy Loughman (Garryowen/Munster) *
Joe McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster) *
Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 84
Tom O’Toole (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 2
Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 43
Cian Prendergast (Connacht) *
James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 43
Dan Sheehan (Lansdowne/Leinster) 7
Nick Timoney (Banbridge/Ulster) 2
Kieran Treadwell (Ballymena/Ulster) 5
Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 40
* Denotes uncapped player
IRELAND 2022 SUMMER TOUR FIXTURES:
Māori All Blacks v IRELAND
FMG Stadium, Hamilton, Wednesday, June 29 (kick-off 7.05pm local time/8.05am Irish time)
New Zealand v IRELAND
Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday, July 2 (kick-off 7.05pm local time/8.05am Irish time)
New Zealand v IRELAND
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, Saturday, July 9 (kick-off 7.05pm local time/8.05am Irish time)
Māori All Blacks v IRELAND
Sky Stadium, Wellington, Tuesday, July 12 (kick-off 7.05pm local time/8.05am Irish time)
New Zealand v IRELAND
Sky Stadium, Wellington, Saturday, July 16 (kick-off 7.05pm local time/8.05am Irish time)
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby
London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.
The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.
O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011.
He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017.
O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation.
On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.
“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions.
“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years.
“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy.
“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.
“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland.
“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.
“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old.
“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport.
“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.
“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them.
“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.
“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us.
“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.
“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career.
“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey.
“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family.
“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years.
“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.
“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then.
“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.
“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be.
“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”
Dan Leavy to retire
It has been announced that Leinster Rugby back row Dan Leavy is to retire from the game with immediate effect.
The 27-year-old has played 79 times for Leinster Rugby since his debut against Edinburgh Rugby in October 2014 and has also won 11 Ireland caps.
Unfortunately, Leavy suffered a significant knee injury against Ulster Rugby in March 2019, and following expert medical opinion, and despite his best efforts, he has been advised to retire.
Speaking to leinsterrugby.ie, Leavy said, “I have done everything I can to come back from the knee injury I suffered in 2019 but unfortunately I can’t do any more or ask any more of my body.
“I’d like to thank Andy Williams, my surgeon, and Karl Denvir, my physio in Leinster, for all that they have done for me in the years since then. I can take solace from the fact that I tried everything over the last three years.
“From the early days in Old Belvedere to my time in St Michael’s College, all I wanted was to pull on a Leinster Rugby jersey. And then when you achieve that, it’s an Ireland jersey.
“I am very proud of all that I achieved in my short time as a professional.
“Some amazing highs with my brothers in blue and in green and I am beyond grateful for those days and those moments especially the highs of 2018 in Bilbao, the Aviva Stadium and Twickenham.
“More than that I am proud of how I carried myself, in particular over the last few years, and I hope I represented my club, my country, my family and friends to the best of my abilities in those years. I am beyond grateful to them all for their support and in particular to my mum and dad, Eilish and Donal, my sister, Rachel, and my brother, Adam.
“I am also very grateful to Leo Cullen. Leo has been an unbelievable support to me over the last few years. On the field, and off, and I cannot thank him enough.
“Not many people get to enjoy and experience what I have over the last 10 years representing my school, my club and my country.
“This is not the end I had hoped for, but as I look back, at the highs and the lows, they have all been shared with the best teammates, family and friends around me, and what more could I ask for?”
Leinster Rugby head coach Leo Cullen said, “Dan was a player earmarked from an early age as a special talent and I think everyone could see that, particularly in those few years in and around 2017, ’18 and ’19, just how dynamic and destructive a player he could be with Leinster and with Ireland where he went on to achieve unprecedented success at that time.
“While the public have seen very little of Dan since his injury, we have seen plenty of him in here and we have seen the same determination, character and drive that marked him out on the pitch as one of the best.
“Dan has also received incredible support from his family and all the medical staff here along the difficult path of trying to return to playing.
“Speaking on behalf of the support staff here at Leinster Rugby it has been a pleasure and privilege to have worked with Dan. He always brought such a positive energy to the group and we will all miss him dearly but would like to acknowledge the significant contribution he has made to the team during his time here.
“Talking to him, Dan is very appreciative of the times he has enjoyed in here with Leinster but now, it’s about us all supporting him as best we can as he starts that next stage in his life.
“I have no doubt that he will apply himself with the same determination that we have seen since he first pulled on a Leinster jersey in 2014 and that he will make a success of himself away from the rugby fields. We wish him well and I hope he knows that there will always be a warm welcome for him here in UCD or down the road at the RDS.”
Leavy, who played seven times for Leinster this season and last appeared against Ulster Rugby last month, made his debut in 2014 and has played 79 times in total for Leinster Rugby scoring 17 tries.
He was an ever-present member of the double-winning Leinster Rugby squad of 2017/18 and he brought that club form to the international stage when making his Irish debut in November 2016 against Canada at Aviva Stadium.
He made his Six Nations debut later that season coming off the bench against England at Aviva Stadium in March 2017.
During his Ireland career, he never lost a game in his 11 caps and was a key member of the Grand Slam-winning side of 2018.
Everyone in Leinster Rugby sends Dan our very best wishes for the future, and thank him most sincerely, for brilliant days in blue.
Dan Leavy Biog:
DOB: 23 May 1994
Height: 6′ 3″
Weight: 16st 7lbs
Leinster Caps / Tries: 79 / 17
Ireland Caps / Tries: 11 / 3