RA in talks with Nucifora and lock in HP director – but timing snag causes angst in search for new Wallabies coach


As Melbourne Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson moved to ease fears that the Super Rugby franchise was about to go under, Rugby Australia, at last, received some good news with Peter Horne agreeing to take on the new role as national high performance director.

But, in a move that could slow RA’s ability to secure the next Wallabies coach, The Roar can reveal that Horne isn’t expected to start in the role until March after agreeing to terms over the past 24 hours.

His appointment comes more than a week after it was revealed that Horne had been RA’s chosen figure to try and turn the game’s high performance around.

News of his pending appointment came as the high-performance specialist was about to start a week’s worth of meetings with tier two nations in Sydney’s east, which included outgoing Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui.

Despite RA appointing Horne, it hasn’t stopped the governing body from speaking with outgoing Ireland director of high-performance David Nucifora about his plans in recent days.

Nucifora, who left Australian rugby a decade ago after struggling to implement the reform measures he wanted, will finish up in his current role with the IRFU following the Paris Olympics.

It’s believed Nucifora doesn’t want to jump into another full-time job, but RA could look to offer him a consulting role once he becomes available.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora before the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match between Ireland and South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

One person who is strongly considering jumping back into a full-time position, however, is former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt – and The Roar understands the New Zealander is keen to replace Eddie Jones in the Wallabies’ top job.

That will relieve RA officials, but the clock is ticking.

The Roar has been told several high-profile candidates, including Schmidt, are surprised RA has taken as long as they have to get the ball rolling with regards to both the director of high performance role and the Wallabies head coaching job.

RA chief-executive Phil Waugh has made it clear that he wants the new director of high performance to lead the recruitment drive of pinning down the next Wallabies coach. It’s understood RA will form a panel to help select the next coach.

Meanwhile, the Rebels wrote to players and staff to play down reports that the Super Rugby franchise could financially collapse on Wednesday.

In a letter sent to players and staff, Stephenson assured them that the “job security of staff is secure for 2024”.

His letter came after weeks of reports that the Rebels were financially in strife, with the Super Rugby franchise owing millions of dollars to the Australian Taxation Office and a seven-figure number for the use of AAMI Park Stadium.

It also came after The Australian Financial Review revealed that BRC Capital, whose chairman Paul Docherty also chairs the Rebels, was facing questions about its solvency after four subsidiaries were wound up in the past month.

And while RA would once come to the rescue of their Super Rugby franchises, that’s no longer the case, especially after taking out an $80m loan recently.

It’s why whispers of a return to four Super Rugby franchises have arisen over the past month, particularly with a new broadcast deal to be negotiated over the next 24 months and a significant uplift in the current $29m they receive per annum from Nine Entertainment and Stan essential.

The fact that no Rebels player or coach is contracted beyond 2025, and RA has cooled on bringing the franchise into their “integrated” centralised model, has only added to those whispers.  

The Roar reported on Tuesday that RA was $15m short of where they need to be to cover their costs, which have risen with the importance placed on women’s rugby ahead of the 2029 Rugby World Cup.

That explains RA’s rationale for not restoring a $1.7m fee to the five Super Rugby franchises that they held back from them following the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020.

By doing so, they have placed further strain on the Super Rugby franchises, who remain deeply disappointed with RA less than a month after ousting former chairman Hamish McLennan.

McLennan was one of the biggest supporters of Australia having five Super Rugby franchises and was known to be close to Docherty.

Former Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Nonetheless, Stephenson moved to ease fears on Wednesday in a letter sent to Rebels players and staff.

“As we approach the end of what has undoubtedly been a challenging time, the strength, determination, and commitment you’ve demonstrated in the face of recent media scrutiny have not gone unnoticed, and I am immensely proud to lead such a resilient and dedicated team,” the letter read.

“The past couple of weeks have seen our Club navigating some turbulent waters, with media articles putting us in the spotlight. I want to commend everyone for your professionalism, focus, and steadfast dedication to our great Club. Your ability to rise above the noise and stay true to our values is a testament to the strong foundation we’ve built together over the past 12 months.

“I understand that any level of speculation or uncertainty can be unsettling, especially as we head into our Christmas break, and I want to assure everyone that job security of staff is secure for 2024. Docs, the board, and I are actively working to address the concerns raised, and I am confident that, together, we will emerge from this stronger than ever.

“As we approach the Christmas break, I want to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a safe New Year.

“Let’s continue to support one another, communicate openly, and approach the future with the same resilience that has defined us throughout the year. I am confident that our collective efforts will lead to success on and off the field.

“Thank you for your hard work, dedication, and unwavering commitment. Here’s to a well-deserved break.”

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