Nu­ci­fora’s search for sec­ond-tier games reaches New Eng­land

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - BREN­DAN FAN­NING

WHEN a col­league in this of­fice saw the IRFU’s ‘New Eng­land Free Jacks’ email pop into his in­box on Fri­day evening he thought they were an­nounc­ing a cloth­ing deal. If only.

You most likely have never heard of the Free Jacks, aside per­haps from a pub­lic con­ve­nience that didn’t re­quire a coin in the slot. They are a Bos­ton-based rugby fran­chise ready to join up with the new Ma­jor League Rugby (MLR) com­pe­ti­tion which kicked off in the US this sea­son. For them to nail down a se­ries of games next March/April with our pro­vin­cial A sides is a huge feather in their cap. For Ir­ish rugby to se­cure this new con­nec­tion is not quite in the same ball­park.

So why are the IRFU get­ting into this most un­likely bed? They need to give play­ers games. Al­low­ing for in­juries, each province could have circa 10 play­ers who don’t make the match­day 23 in ei­ther PRO14 or Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion each week. The union had hoped to ramp up the AIL to make its top end a com­pe­ti­tion ap­pro­pri­ate for th­ese play­ers, but the clubs knocked them back.

Their main rea­sons for re­ject­ing the plan in­clude the tem­po­rary sus­pen­sion of pro­mo­tion and rel­e­ga­tion in or­der to achieve a re­gional spread, the size of the pro­posed divi­sions, and the ab­sence of any limit on the num­ber of pro­fes­sional play­ers who could take part.

Un­der­pin­ning this op­po­si­tion was wide­spread dis­trust/dis­like of IRFU per­for­mance di­rec­tor David Nu­ci­fora, and a de­sire — cer­tainly in Le­in­ster — to have a club com­pe­ti­tion con­trolled by the branch rather than head of­fice. The anti-Nu­ci­fora lobby seem happy to be blind to what he was say­ing, in­stead fo­cus­ing on the fact that his lips were mov­ing at all. And the sec­ond bit, the lust for re­gain­ing con­trol of com­pe­ti­tions, is to miss the point al­to­gether.

The only goal the clubs have scored was the direct hit on Nu­ci­fora’s pa­tience but­ton. The line from the IRFU is that he’s still open to of­fers from the clubs on their own vision of the fu­ture, but we fear that ship has sailed. In which case, as was ap­par­ent to any­one pre­pared to think about it, he started ring­ing around the rugby world look­ing for some­one to play ball.

And that brings us to the New Eng­land Free Jacks. The Celtic Cup with the Welsh re­gions took care of the first two months of this sea­son but a great yawn­ing gap lies ahead. So in the spring our four pro­vin­cial A sides will, in se­quence, fly into Lo­gan Air­port for a pro­gramme that will in­volve a game against the lo­cals and then a game against one of the other provinces.

Th­ese fix­tures will clash with the AIL, which will be build­ing to­wards a cli­max of its spon­sor­less sea­son. In fair­ness, why would you want to in­vest in a com­pe­ti­tion where the vast ma­jor­ity of clubs want to op­er­ate in the dark?

Mean­while, Scot­land and Wales are hav­ing their own in­ter­nal bat­tles try­ing to es­tab­lish their sec­ond tier to sup­port the pro game. And Nu­ci­fora will keep work­ing the phones.

The IRFU claim this Amer­i­can tie-up is cost neu­tral — one of the great at­trac­tions of a re­vamped AIL was keeping it all on the is­land, where costs were more con­trol­lable — in which case the Free Jacks must be writ­ing a fat cheque to cover costs for their new bud­dies. Per­haps the IRFU have agreed to pick up the tab for the re­turn gig next sea­son.

The union also say the door is still open to the AIL clubs. Let’s see if the emer­gence of a sec­ond A team com­pe­ti­tion, with the prospect of more to come, prompts those same clubs to walk through it.

David Nu­ci­fora: press­ing ahead

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.