NZ went all out for Joe: Nucifora
Munster narrow search to one man
The IRFU Elite Performance Director David Nucifora has revealed for the first time how New Zealand went over and above to convince Joe Schmidt to return home after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
In the aftermath of the tournament, the Ireland coach sat on his decision for some time, which included a journey home in the summer of 2016, before eventually extending his contract with Ireland to 2019.
"New Zealand did everything they possibly could to get Joe back, absolutely. Everything," stressed Nucifora.
"A lot of it didn't bubble up to the surface. They put a lot of pressure on.
"We were fortunate that he decided to stay here and focus on Irish rugby through to the next World Cup."
Schmidt has never failed at any level of his long, rewarding coaching career from Bay of Plenty to the heights of international rugby. .
In a perverse way, Ireland's World Cup quarter-final exit to Argentina might just have been the difference between Schmidt staying in Ireland and returning home to realise his ambition to coach the All Blacks.
This could reflect Schmidt's belief in his players and those on their way through the system.
Centre Bundee Aki and hooker Tom McCartney will be Ireland-qualified in November.
Out-half Tyler Bleyendaal was at Ireland's training camp in August and Jean Kleyn will complete his three-year residency before the World Cup.
There are also the emerging talents of Leinster lock James Ryan and tight-head Andrew Porter, Ulster wing Jacob Stockdale and second-row Kieran Treadwell.
In the shorter-term, the news that England's Billy Vunipola will be out for at least four months with a knee injury increases Ireland's chances in the Six Nations.
The number eight has spoken out about how players in England suffer from a brutal schedule and how they would benefit from fewer games as he endured his third operation in a year.
He even went as far as to claim he would take a pay cut in return for a cut in playing minutes.
"We owe Billy a cheque in the mail," joked Nucifora. "I will believe that when I see it when it comes to pay cuts. But, it does make a statement that that's how the players feel.
"Our best weapon against the greater amounts of money that exist in the UK and France is the welfare system.
"The players won't come out and sit in front of you and tell you that.
"But, I know when we are negotiating contracts it is at the forefront of their mind.
"They know we care about them. They know we manage them really well."
Nucifora was also free to confirm that Munster and the IRFU have narrowed their search for a successor to Rassie Erasmus down to one unnamed candidate. Fellow South African Dave Wessels has been mentioned in dispatches.
"We feel we're getting close to being able to do something," he added. "But, in any negotiation, things can move or change at the last minute.
"You never quite know until it's actually done.
"At the moment, we are talking to one person. That's why I can say we are getting closer."
Nucifora ranked the loss of Erasmus as nothing more than "the nature of the business".
There is no safeguarding against a coach's change of mind to cut his contract short.
"I'll tell you a story," said Nucifora.
"We were in South Africa last June (2016). The first person I saw at a function I went to was the (South African RFU) CEO Juri (Roux).
"The first thing he said to me was, 'well done, but we're going to be doing everything we can to bring him back at some point'.
"You expect that. Good people, of course they are going to try and get them back."
The IRFU is left to look on the bright side of life with Erasmus.
Munster are in a far healthier state now than when he arrived 15 months ago.
Thus, it is a more attractive opportunity for anyone, domestic or overseas.
"It was a feather in the cap for Munster to be able to get Rassie in the first place," insisted Nucifora.
The advantage of the leaving of Erasmus is that it is happening slowly, giving Munster the best chance to execute a proper pursuit of the next best man for the job and not be rushed into the decision.