Monday 14 October 2019

Nacewa edges Howlett as our greatest ever rugby import

Munster's Doug Howlett and Leinster's Isa Nacewa in action in the Heineken Cup Semi-Final in Croke Park, May 2009
Munster's Doug Howlett and Leinster's Isa Nacewa in action in the Heineken Cup Semi-Final in Croke Park, May 2009

Issues have arisen in the history of Irish rugby that have split us down the middle whether it was Ward or Campbell, Sexton or O'Gara or in this case Nacewa or Howlett.

In the Irish Independent's Choices campaign we asked the public who has been the greatest rugby import into Ireland, Leinster's Isa Nacewa or Doug Howlett of Munster?

The result could not have been tighter, after well over a 1,000 votes cast Leinster's Isa Nacewa shaded it by 528 to 525 meaning they were divided by 0.005%.

Both players will depart this summer and return to their native New Zealand having contributed four Heineken Cup triumphs between them and countless moments of magic and class savoured by the entire Irish rugby community, a huge thank you to both.

Nacewa was not an instant success at Leinster but quickly found his feet.

New Zealand-born, but of Fijian descent, the 30 year old flourished in the Leinster backline orchestrated by Felipe Contepomi first and more recently by Jonathan Sexton and Ian Madigan.

As a strike runner in the back three for Leinster he was a major offensive weapon for Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt but he will also be fondly remembered for his fearless tackling and unequalled defensive instincts.

While Nacewa blossomed for Leinster in the prime of his career, Howlett joined Munster in the twilight of his as a 30 year old in 2008.

As the fifth highest tryscorer in Rugby Union history and the highest every tryscorer in the history of the All Blacks, Howlett joined Munster with a huge reputation.

He played a pivotal role in Munster's 2008 Heineken Cup triumph and the Magner's League title in 2009.

The Kiwi, of Tongan descent, is held in such a high regard that he was made Munster captain this season but unfortunately missed Munster's gallant semi-final defeat to Clermont due to a shoulder injury which ultimately led to his retirement at the end of the season.

Notable mention in the category of best foreign import ever must also be given to Rocky Elsom and Felipe Contepomi of Leinster, Jim Williams and Trevor Halstead who served Munster, Dan Parks in Connacht and the South African pair of Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar in Ulster.

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