Friday 21 October 2016

Player Diary - Isa Nacewa: Both teams have grown this season

Memories of previous games against Ulster and our pre-season friendly sets this contest up nicely

Isa Nacewa

Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30

Isa Nacewa and his Leinster team-mates are fired up for the challenge of facing Ulster at Ravenhill tomorrow (SPORTSFILE)
Isa Nacewa and his Leinster team-mates are fired up for the challenge of facing Ulster at Ravenhill tomorrow (SPORTSFILE)
Isa Nacewa and his Leinster team-mates are fired up for the challenge of facing Ulster at Ravenhill tomorrow (SPORTSFILE)
Isa Nacewa and his Leinster team-mates are fired up for the challenge of facing Ulster at Ravenhill tomorrow (SPORTSFILE)

I won't lie, it's not the nicest feeling having a weekend off when the semi-finals of Europe are on. I thought that watching on when the last eight were playing was bad but this was a step up again.

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There is a sense of failure watching on as four teams battle it out for a spot in the Champions Cup final, in particular when one of those teams, Wasps, had come from your own group. Very much a sense of what might have been this season.

But if there is a bright side, it is the extra conditioning sessions you get to do, aiming to be in the best shape possible at this stage of the season and that is what we have had.

The S&C team led by Dan Tobin have again kept things fresh and that approach finds huge favour with players as you can't keep on doing the same stuff the whole time.

There is also the extra buzz you get when you walk out onto that pitch in Rosemount and the sun is out, the grass is perfectly cut and you know that this is the part of the season that you've been waiting for and working hard for.

It really is the 'business end' of the season.

Having had a stop-start few weeks because of European weekends, we are now into two massive weekends in a row that will define our end-of-season schedule.

And the weeks and games don't get any easier. Ulster away at Ravenhill is always one of the hardest fixtures of the year. While we would never rely too heavily on previous results from seasons gone past - why would you when teams change and there are so many other factors going into every performance? - the lads have mentioned last season and the loss up there.

It was a game that Ulster won but they also kept us scoreless for the second half so we are all well aware of what Ulster can do to you if you are in any way off form.

For me personally, I have good memories of playing against Ulster and even playing in Ravenhill. I remember a good win that we had, in 2010 I think it was, which would have been my last competitive game up there. It was always a great stadium and I saw at first hand in the pre-season friendly this season that the renovation has just added to the atmosphere.

My last game before I retired in 2013 was the Pro12 final which was played in the RDS and which we won. And there is also the Heineken Cup final obviously the season before that. So good times to look back on but little impact on tomorrow.

Looking back on that 2010 fixture, it was interesting to see that Dave Kearney started the game in only his eighth game for Leinster. Saturday will be his 100th game for the club and he has really grown as a player in that time not only with Leinster but also with Ireland which has been great to see but also richly deserved.

He also stands on 95 points so it would be a fitting end to a great afternoon for him personally if he does manage to cross the whitewash and complete the 100-point mark on the occasion of his 100th cap. But knowing Dave, offer him a three-nil Leinster win and he'd take it.

Every opportunity counts at this end of the season and there is an extra, expected, edge in training as we all fight it out for a spot in the 23. It's great to have nearly the whole squad available competing for spots.

Personally, I think back almost eight months to the aforementioned pre-season game at Ravenhill. So much has happened across the season to this point and Ulster have also grown with the likes of Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson firing on all cylinders, Stuart McCloskey having a true break-out season and Rory Best playing at his usual high standard. We are going to have to be at our best come 3pm tomorrow.

For us our focus has been on the sharpness and edge we had in our attack at the RDS against Edinburgh while also acknowledging our defence needs to be better. It was great to see so many of our loyal fans at that game and fingers crossed we get to see you up at Ravenhill as well. Your support is massively important to us, especially at this time of the season.

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