Leinster’s Isa Nacewa to retire and return home to New Zealand at end of season
Popular back giving up the game for family reasons
In a development that will hugely disappoint Leinster supporters the province are to lose the services of Isa Nacewa at the end of the current season. The immensely popular utility back has decided to return to Auckland despite having another year on his contract with the province.
The 30-year-old will thus end a singularly productive five-year spell with Leinster, in which time the province won three Heineken Cups. He and his wife Simone, have decided to return home along with their three Irish-born daughters, twins Mia Rose and Ellie Milika (three last November) and one-year-old Lucy Annie, for family reasons and thus, although he will only turn 31 in July, Nacewa is set to retire from professional rugby.
On foot of losing Jonny Sexton to Racing Metro next season, Leinster had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Nacewa to reverse his decision and remain with them for another year. His departure also follows the loss of wingers Andrew Conway to Munster and Fionn Carr to Connacht.
It is understood that they have known of Nacewa’s intentions for a while, and hence plans for a replacement are well in advance. Although they have been linked with the Wallabies utility back, Drew Mitchell, it is believed that they have identified a replacement for Nacewa in South Africa.
Capped once by Fiji for a couple of minutes at the 2003 World Cup, Nacewa was signed from the Auckland Blues in 2008 by Michael Cheika and despite breaking a hand in only his third game he returned before Christmas to make his Heineken Cup debut in round four as a sub against Castres. Since then he has started Leinster’s last 37 Cup matches in a row.
Quick, strong and skilful, a huge tackler and wonderful athlete, Leinster team-mates have described him glowingly as one of the best, and in some cases the best player they have ever played with. Along with his versatility, he has also been a useful kicker, scoring 375 points (including 21 tries) for the province.
Operating at fullback, Nacewa was outstanding in Leinster's breakthrough Heineken Cup win, and again two seasons later when he scored a virtuoso try against Leicester in the quarter-final and helped them to regain the trophy in the final against Northampton in Joe Schmidt’s first season with the province. Nacewa had been instrumental in Leinster identifying the player’s former backs coach with the Blues as Cheika’s successor, and at the end of the season he became the first, and hitherto only overseas player to win the Irupa Players’ Player of the Year award.
Last season the Aucklander claimed his third Heineken Cup winner’s medal last season. Despite a couple of injuries this season, Nacewa has played 116 games to date in his five seasons with Leinster, all but six of them in the starting line-up.
An ultra professional and a mild-manner classy bloke too, he will be missed.