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'I've never met David': Irish boss Kidney's startling IRFU claim

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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You’d imagine that the desire by the IRFU to develop a wider tranche of potential Ireland players would surely have them in contact with London Irish, the English Premiership club, in these recent financially straitened times. However, Irish boss Declan Kidney, the 2009 Grand Slam-winning coach, has revealed to RugbyPass that he has never ever had a single conversation with IRFU high-performance boss David Nucifora.

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This absent rapport between the organisation running rugby in Ireland and a club in England with an Irish ethos goes way back to the start of the professional era and it was something touched on by Willie Anderson in his recently published autobiography.

Anderson had taken over at Irish in the mid-1990s from Clive Woodward, who at the time had been at loggerheads over how the IRFU felt entitled to have Ireland players contracted to the English club still be allowed to play for the Irish provinces in European competition.

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Jack Nowell guests on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload
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Jack Nowell guests on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload

It drove a wedge between relations across the Irish sea and judging by the current lack of communication, that relationship hasn’t been repaired. “No, no, I have never actually met David,” admitted Kidney, when asked by RugbyPass had he ever been in contact since his arrival at London Irish with those pulling the strings at the IRFU.

The Australia Nucifora has been running the show in Dublin since April 2014, while Kidney took over the reins at London Irish in March 2018, but there has never been a conversation to tease out whether the former multi trophy-winning Ireland and Munster boss would willingly accommodate players at the Exiles at the request of the IRFU. Instead, Kidney only snaps up the odd player from Ireland when he knows they are surplus to requirement.  

For instance, legendary back-rower Sean O’Brien was only signed by London Irish after the IRFU decided to no longer centrally contract him prior to the 2019 World Cup while Hugh O’Sullivan, who made a Premiership debut off the bench last Saturday at Worcester, arrived in England via an unfulfilled stint at Leinster. Kidney, though, would be interested in bringing in more players across from Ireland if the IRFU were ever interested in sounding him out. “Should any player be looking for a different experience or should there be a clutter of Irish players in a position where they don’t have (enough) game time and they [the IRFU] would like top rugby for them, we would certainly be only too happy to help out. 

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“In terms of the relationship, we don’t want to be getting in the way of anything the IRFU are doing but we would certainly be more than happy to help out in any way possible. So like if the IRFU had seven or eight players in one position that they all felt were of international ability and weren’t getting enough time and they want to send one or two our way, we would certainly take a look at that in comparison to the lads we have because we have good players in all positions as well too.

“We are an English team, we’re sponsored by Irish money and we have that combination going. I wouldn’t want to get into the political side of it. We would be more than happy to do it [help out] but we would certainly not be in the heads of players or anybody else to do bartering one way or the other. We would be delighted for lads to come over to us, but they need to add value to our team as well.

“Things have changed a lot in the 23 years and they will continue to do so. Funnily enough, Willie didn’t send me a complimentary copy (of his book), but anyway… Would we be happy to help (the IRFU)? Absolutely. But if I saw a headline tomorrow about ‘fifth province’ and or any of this nonsense, I just wouldn’t stand for it. We are an English side, we provide players to the English squad and we’re delighted with the fact that some of our younger players got picked for the English squad in the summer – and that is what we want to do. 

“London Irish have a long reputation of producing players that have gone on to play for England but they have gone to other clubs. What we are trying to do is to get those players to stay with us. If Anthony Watson, Joe Cokanasiga or Jonathan Joseph had stayed with us that would have helped our roster, and what we want to do is create an atmosphere.

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“We brought in some senior players to give advice to the likes of Ollie Hassell-Collins, Ben Loader, Tom Parton, Ben Donnell, all these guys coming through. If some Irish lads want to join us with that as well then too, there is nobody happier than myself or Les (Kiss, assistant coach) to help them out in doing that. But we are certainly not going to get in the way of anything the IRFU are doing.”

That said, it has been a frustrating time for O’Brien, the two-tour British and Irish Lions pick, at London Irish since the curtain fell on his 66-cap Ireland career and he opted to head to the Premiership. He has only made 14 appearances across two years and was a late cry-off from the bench for last weekend’s match at Sixways.

However, despite O’Brien’s limited on-field contribution, Kidney was fulsome in his praise for the role played by the 34-year-old away from the pitch at the club. “This weekend is another weekend so let’s see what happens there (with regards to playing). Sean’s influence off the pitch, the things you don’t see, he takes away the academy fellas, he does their diet with them. 

“There are loads of stories I could tell about Sean but he will probably write even more in his second autobiography, I suppose. But yes, he has been a real positive influence around the club and has helped to set standards for players as well. You have Ben Donnell and other players of that ilk that are coming through and they will all have some information from Sean. 

“It’s not all about what Sean would say to them but it’s also about how they conduct themselves and how they work through their own rehabilitation if they are injured or how they keep themselves fit or how they carry themselves in their diet, and you can have a bit of fun then too. Those are all the different sides of it.”

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'I've never met David': Irish boss Kidney's startling IRFU claim

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