Isa Nacewa: Leinster can expect all out war against Saracens

In battles like these you need to get away with whatever you can

April 2012. Someway, somehow we kept out Clermont Auvergne under blazing Bordeaux sun. Walking back down the tunnel at Stade Chaban-Delmas that unmistakable husky Aussie/Kiwi voice goes: "Jesus Isa, that was a war."

Only a few months earlier the big fella won a World Cup final in Eden Park against France.

Brad Thorn knows plenty about the rough and tumble.

So crazy was Clermont's late assault - there is no other word for it, check the video to see the battering Leo Cullen takes under our posts - Thorny compared it to mortal combat.


Gordon D’Arcy remains the hero of that hour for loosening the ball from Wesley Fofana’s hands as he dived over the line.

Can’t remember any other tackles by a back.

Still can’t believe we won with myself and Drico doing next to nothing in those hectic last moments.

Actually, we did do something. We lived offside behind Wayne Barnes’ back.

I remember Clermont had a five on three advantage. Morgan Parra only needed to spin it left and they’d walk in (unless me or Drico did something outrageous).

But Parra kept trucking up the heavies. He probably saw how ridiculously offside we were, bordering on cheating to be honest, as we crowded the space and hoped for the best. The touch judges never said a word so what were we meant to do?

In these games you get away with whatever you can.

Victory was all about the Leinster pack. Leo, Brad, Kev McLaughlin, Jamie, Nugget, all of them, put their bodies on the line. Somehow Clermont did not steamroll us. We held the slenderest of four point leads as Cudmore and Lapandry, huge men, pounded away.

It ended with Seánie O’Brien’s turnover inches from our line.

That’s what I expect to witness when I’m woken by my daughters at 3am this Sunday night.

War. And an early breakfast.

I've been worried about Saracens for weeks but my mind calms watching the largely unseen work Scott Fardy and James Ryan got through against Toulouse.


The Israel Folau story dominates front pages down in New Zealand and Australia this week. That Billy Vunipola heaped the same heat on Saracens before the Munster game blows my mind. These are elite professional rugby players. Folau has played a World Cup final.

Vunipola owns every medal on offer in the northern hemisphere.

They are fully cognisant how a team becomes and remains successful.

Nobody, from academy player to head coach, can put their individual beliefs or desires above the group. You go public on anything at all and it’s a distraction. Winning, in my experience, only gets done when everyone is moving in the same direction.

I can only imagine what Cheika is thinking.

Fair play to Saracens for circling the wagons to produce that outstanding performance in the semi-final. They are a hugely impressive rugby club to be able to compartmentalise Billy’s words and the salary cap investigation.

Saracens, off the field, do a lot for the families of players. That must be noted because it is part of why they keep winning.

They know how to kill a game better than anyone else. They switch up tactically as soon as they build a lead. It's impossible to keep Owen Farrell out of kicking range.

What mattered in last season’s quarter-final was the five points we banked after three minutes.

There is an occasional chink of light against them. The Nacewas will be bolt upright on the couch if Leinster get turnover ball anywhere on the field.

When Sarries are set and come up hard they seem impenetrable. Garry Ringrose's try last season was created by his own pass. It was not exactly turnover ball as Richard Wigglesworth box kicked to Rob Kearney near our 22. Rob cleverly dashed in field towards Brad Barritt.

Saracens were defending on their heels when Luke McGrath zipped the ball to Garry but it’s the width on Ringer’s pass that was vital. He cut out three defenders.

That left myself and James Lowe facing a rare two on two scenario. I'd be a fool to hold the ball with that man in an eight metre channel.

Liam Williams, an excellent defender, is watching my next move but James beats him with power and quick feet.

I trail the run but it is James who gets a fend on Jackson Wray before offloading. We flooded through with Garry in my slipstream. Alex Goode had no chance.

People would be forgiven for wondering why James Lowe is not an All Black. He's a free spirit who loves travelling and meeting people, he gets along with everyone. It took a while for him to grasp the Lancaster-Cullen systems but he was coached by Wayne Smith at the Chiefs. That accelerates any player's rugby intellect. He is flourishing now.

Dark Places

We won nothing in Bordeaux but it’s probably how Newcastle will pan out. Not the actual flow of the game but this Leinster team will need to go to dark places many have never been before.

Suck in enough air to dive back under the waves.

Jesus, it will be a war.

Thorny could say no more. He needed the sanctuary of the changing room to recover.

The unknown is in store for the young lads. The difference might be Stuart Lancaster.

Stuart capped and coached so many Saracens. In certain areas of rugby I learned more in the last 20 months of my career under him than the previous 15 years. I used to think too much information confuses players. The Keep It Simple approach. Stuart shares everything he knows. He changed my perspective in a major way.

He’s a teacher. If you listen to him you will learn. He still challenges me.