Isa Nacewa rolls back the years to ensure Leinster victory
The 35-year-old praises Saracens following ‘tough’ Champions Cup encounter
Leinster’s Isa Nacewa celebrates after his team’s game on Sunday against Saracens, at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
By the end, his socks were rolled down and he was sucking diesel. And when it was all over the 35-year-old Isa Nacewa quipped with Schalk Burger that he was too old for this lark. Yet he had rolled back the years and dug deep in Leinster’s hour of need, once more demonstrating the ability and versatility that has made him such an iconic figure at Leinster, at inside centre.
Aside from his age, consider too that Nacewa had only played 45 minutes, against the Southern Kings, since the conclusion of the Champions Cup pool stages. Leinster have been minding the game time of ‘aul man Isa, as he has become affectionately known around Leinster’s UCD base.
Nonetheless, he began with a flourish here, sweeping the ball on to James Lowe and then supporting the latter’s break, showing an impressive turn of foot in beating Richard Wigglesworth. Once clear, you knew there would be no butchering the try, as he gave the try-scoring pass inside to Garry Ringrose.
He slipped off a few tackles, though they weren’t costly, with himself and Ringrose often shooting up to cut off the Saracens supply lines out wide. He still chipped in with 14 tackles.
After it was all done and dusted, a suited Nacewa was hobbling as he made his way into the media.
He admitted he felt “sore”, adding: “We respect everything they do; we knew they were a champions side and would keep fighting. They did that. A lot of credit goes to our bench, they came on and stuck to the systems and gave everyone a lift when it was needed. It was a tough game.”
Nacewa was also on hand to latch onto Lowe and help drive him over the line for the try that edged Leinster 23-12 in front, before Dan Leavy’s try augmented their third-quarter push to the victory line.
“We knew we had to come out and stick at Leinster rugby and keep playing like you have to against a champion team like Saracens,” said Nacewa. “We did that and were able to get up on the scoreboard, which was really important. But they keep clawing away and never gave up; we knew they wouldn’t.”
A semi-final against the Scarlets certainly provides plenty of familiarity. “You definitely know a lot of the players a hell of a lot more. Three times in the last calendar year alone we’ve played. It’s been a bit of a rivalry for us in the last while.
“They definitely got one over us in the RDS last year in the Pro14 semi-final. They’re such a good attacking side these days and they showed that the other evening. They’re a really tough challenge and one we’ll have to learn from today and really build for.
“They are a huge challenge, one of the best attacking teams out there. They thrive off turnover ball, [and have] one of the highest rates of turning over ball and converting those into points. All the guys they have, they can play to both game plans and they are a very expansive team as we know.”
Yet it is the memory of that semi-final defeat, and against Clermont at the same stage in the Champions Cup last year, that lingers and adds to this squad’s desire.
“We have a really motivated squad,” said Nacewa. “They are really hungry; a lot of guys coming off a Grand Slam and adding another level of intensity to the team. And we’re a strong squad, there are a lot of guys who weren’t playing tonight who would have been itching to be there.
“It was a tough pill to swallow, losing a semi-final as we did away last year to Clermont. That has been etched in the back of our head and it is something we don’t like feeling. We have talked about it a lot, and off-season we have learned from it. We took a big step tonight to earn another 80 minutes of footie. It’s knockout rugby. There is no room for any more mistakes.”