Super Nacewa joins Rocky on top of overseas charts
Published 11/04/2011 | 05:00
"Isa Nacewa's try was another spark from him. He has played every single game we have played: pre-season, Magners, Heineken, every game we have played this season. Thankfully, he is not paid minute-by-minute but he has done a fantastic job for us."
So said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt within an hour of their Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Leicester, a match where Nacewa, once again, was the most dangerous attacker on the pitch.
Irish rugby has had some quality overseas imports over the last 10 years -- John Langford, Trevor Halstead and Doug Howlett in Munster; BJ Botha and Johann Muller in Ulster; and Ray Ofisa and Brett Wilkinson in Connacht would be some of those success stories.
Leinster have had theirs also: Felipe Contepomi, Nathan Hines and the stunning one-season contribution of Rocky Elsom who was inspirational in their march to European glory. Nacewa played a key role in that 2009 triumph and, two seasons on, deserves to be ranked alongside Elsom as the finest overseas talent to have graced rugby in these islands.
Nacewa is a player who is greater than the sum of his parts. Quick, but not lightning, well-built without being devastatingly powerful, the 28-year-old maximises every physical attribute he has been given through innate rugby intelligence and it is hard to find any weaknesses in his game.
It used to be kicking, but Nacewa has worked assiduously on this aspect of his game with tremendous results. The Aucklander's style of putting boot to ball is still ungainly enough to make perma-tanned kicking guru Dave Alred blanch but there are no arguments with the results.
His arms may fly up in the air as he addresses the ball but it tends to go where he wants it to, the exquisitely spun dink for Shane Horgan's try last week being a case in point, and when he did opt to kick against Leicester last Saturday, the results were on the money.
However, it is Nacewa's contribution with ball in hand that will be most closely remembered in years to come. With the capacity to play along the backline from scrum-half out, only his stop-gap appearances at out-half could be deemed to be less than successful, and full-back is the natural home for a player of Nacewa's verve and vision.
Even before he receives the ball, his sat-nav kicks in to reveal the optimum space to attack, processing potential mismatches and best opportunities for off-loads.
Then there is the jink. Nacewa's outstanding individual try on Saturday may be qualified by the fact that it stemmed from a blatant forward pass to Shane Horgan, but there is no quibbling with what happened next. It was reminiscent of the goal George Best scored for the San Jose Earthquakes when he twisted and squirmed his way around four or five defenders.
Nacewa is a loss to the international game, his solitary cap for Fiji precluded contribution to the New Zealand (or Irish) causes but, though that fact is continually raised, it should not be bemoaned -- he made his choice as an adult, and that is just the way it is.
Instead, pay tribute to his contribution at club level. Ireland has had its share of overseas duds over the years, but Nacewa is a pearl and Irish rugby should be grateful.
Worth paying by the minute.