Nucifora creates synergy for Australia at JWC
By Tom Chick
Australia’s performances in the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 has certainly been living up to expectations and it is no surprise former Wallaby David Nucifora is at the forefront of the set up.
Having finished fifth overall in the inaugural Championship last year in Wales under Brian Melrose, Nucifora has already guaranteed Australia a better placing in Japan as they prepare to face New Zealand in the semi finals in Tokyo on Wednesday.
Australia ended the pool stages as the leading point scorers (164) and try scorers (24), with their scrum half Richard Kingi and wing Rodney Davies heading these categories in the individual standings.
With three impressive bonus point victories over Canada, Tonga and Wales in Pool D, Australia are firing on all cylinders and being billed as potential winners of this Under 20 tournament in Japan.
Nucifora is not getting carried away with such talk, even though he knows that if his charges play to the best of their ability then they could turn their potential into success.
“It is nice to have made it through to the semis,” admitted Nucifora. "We set ourselves fairly high goals at the start of this campaign and we think we are capable of winning it if we play to our potential. It is good to have made it this far but we know we have a lot work still in front of us if we want to achieve what we came here for.
“What we have tried to do is improve each performance each time we jump out on the field. We have gone okay in the first few games. We stepped up another level for the Welsh game which was pleasing but we know the two games that are potentially ahead of us are very difficult so we need to continue to improve.”
Creating a synergy in Australian rugby
The former hooker is the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) High Performance Unit General Manager, dealing with the National Talent Squad and overseeing the development of players between the ages of 15 and 18.
Nucifora, who won two caps for the Wallabies, was then appointed head coach for the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 in Japan, a move which most people agreed, including him, was the correct one as it creates a synergy throughout Australian rugby.
“When I took the role, running the High Performance Unit for the ARU, my role now goes from the Wallabies down to the 15-year-olds, so because I came from a coaching background, it seemed sensible to apply those skills right smack in the middle of that pathway with the Under 20s.
“That way we are trying to get continuity between what we do with the young boys coming through and how we manage them coming out of this programme and potentially how they go in the Super 14 and Wallaby calculation. It is a good fit and I enjoy coming back and doing some coaching.”
Nucifora has experience in spades and was part of Australia's first Rugby World Cup winning squad in 1991. He also spent three years coaching the Brumbies, taking them to three successive Super 12 finals before winning it in 2004, after which he moved to coach the Blues in New Zealand for three years.
With all this experience he knows how important a tournament like this is, and with James O'Connor a member of his original squad before being called into the Wallaby squad by Robbie Deans an example for many of them to follow, Nucifora is sure some of this crop will also make it into the Wallaby set up in the future.
“I think the guys start to realise when they reach this level of football that they are within reach of achieving those higher goals. It is all about how well they adapt to playing on a bigger stage and how well they take those opportunities when they arise.
“We will be watching and measuring these boys and how they perform on and off the field very closely with the view of hopefully being able to provide a few more of them into Wallaby calculations.”
Been there and done it
With his high level of involvement in the ARU, fly half Matt To’omua, who has scored 20 points in this year's Championship, recognises the importance of having a coach in the mould of Nucifora in charge.
“He has a lot of experience. I have obviously known of him as he has coached winning teams before moving onto the Blues and now the High Performance Unit,”
“He is a guy you can take a lot from, he has been there done that and I think the players give a lot of respect to guys like that. He is someone you definitely want to impress and he has been very helpful for a lot of us in various areas.
“I think his appointment just shows how the ARU are looking at this programme. They see it as an integral part of young players’ development and so they are putting their best guns out there, so that is encouraging. It is good to know guys like David are watching us and taking note of our progress, it will be good for a lot of players to get that the next step up and play professional rugby.”
Having finished top of Pool D, Australia flew from Fukuoka to Tokyo where the semi finals, third place playoff and final will be held at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
On Wednesday, they will meet New Zealand in the first semi final at 17:00 local time (18:00 Sydney time), and despite losing Super 14 stars Kurtley Beale and Rob Horne to injury, Nucifora reveals his players can’t wait to face the defending champions.
“It is a game we really look forward to, we are really happy we are playing the New Zealanders in the semis. It is always an exciting game for Australians to have a crack at the New Zealanders and the young boys are jumping out of their skin to get into it.”
** Watch the semi finals live and on-demand for free on Wednesday 17 June. First up at the Prince Chicuhibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo will be defending champions New Zealand against Australia at 17:00 local time, followed by a repeat of the 2008 last four showdown between England and South Africa at 19:00 **
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** You can also watch on-demand the Pool B matches (England v Japan and Samoa v Scotland) on 5 June, the Pool A matches (Uruguay v Argentina and Ireland v New Zealand) on 9 June, the Pool C matches (Fiji v Italy and France v South Africa) on 13 June, along with highlights of the matchdays. **
Click here to watch these matches on-demand >>