Nacewa up for dogfight

Peter Breen

It didn't take long for Isa Nacewa to get used to the cut and thrust of interprovincial life.

Born and raised in Auckland, he spent his formative years in the city, so when he moved to Leinster at the start of the 2008/09 campaign it wasn't that significant a departure.

Life in Dublin, he says, is not that dissimilar to life back home, and 80 provincial appearances down the line -- and a brace of Heineken Cup titles to his name -- the 29-year-old could be forgiven for calling this his home away from home.

The bigger the game, the more questions that are asked -- and that is an environment which Nacewa seems to relish. The task doesn't come much tougher than an in-form Connacht side tomorrow evening; equal on 14 league points, the two teams are separated only by a narrow points margin that sees Leinster slightly ahead.

"The rivalry and the sense of anticipation on these interprovincial weeks is huge," said Nacewa on the eve of Saturday's game.

"Recent history tells us that these games often turn into dogfights and whoever stands up wins, but it takes a hell of a lot out of you as a player and I'd liken them, both physically and mentally, to Heineken Cup matches in terms of their intensity.

"Most of the guys on both teams are trying to compete for national spots and form tends not to come into the equation. Looking back over the last few games that I've played, I can't easily remember one which wasn't decided by a late score -- and that just goes to show that when these big days come around, very fine margins almost always separate the sides."

With the PRO12 set to enter a three-week hiatus because of the closing chapters in the World Cup over the coming weekends, Nacewa believes that will add even more fuel to the provincial fire and, with important league points up for grabs, it should make for a mouth-watering contest at the RDS.

"Since the summer months, we've been focusing on this first part of the season and have been building towards this October break," he said. "Having picked up two good wins over the last fortnight, we know that we will have to go up another notch on Saturday because Connacht are flying at the moment.

"They picked up a valuable losing bonus point against the Ospreys last weekend and they would have felt as though they could have got the win.

"Their form in recent weeks has been excellent so we know that we're going to have our work cut out and they have definitely benefited from having greater consistency in selection so far this season.

"They're a well-drilled side with a physical pack and some top class backs like Gavin Duffy, who's a real talisman for them, Eoin Griffin is a good young player and Henry Fa'afili is a powerful ball carrier, to name but three. Up front, they're strong at the breakdown and their pack of forwards are well-drilled and extremely physical.

"From our point of view, we have had a disjointed period with so many players away and unavailable through injury, but the less experienced players in our squad deserve great credit for the manner in which they have fronted up, especially in our recent wins against the Scarlets and Aironi last weekend.

"This weekend will be about upping that intensity and we have to be switched on from the word go."

Nacewa has been an interested spectator in the World Cup and he has been delighted with Ireland's positive form.

"They're timing their run well and they are really beginning to fire on all cylinders at the moment," he said. "To me, they look like one of the most impressive teams in the tournament."

The chance to put the feet up next week is an incentive for the Leinster squad to go hell for leather this weekend.

"If you look at our season, there are usually breaks around November and again during the Six Nations. The thing I've noticed is that when players know that there's a bit of downtime around the corner, you all put in that bit more for the final game before the break because you know you have that bit more time to rest and recover," the Fijian added.

"But we're wise enough to know that having a long break before your next game, coming off a loss, can seem like an eternity and we're determined to finish this part of the season on a high.

"We pride ourselves on our performances at home and it really hurt us to lose our record against Glasgow a few weeks back.

"It was the first time that I brought a defeat home with me for a very long time, maybe since I was very young.

"When you have two babies to look after at home, you have to snap out of whatever mood you're in and I'm normally quite good at leaving rugby matters at the door, but my wife Simone even said it had affected me.

"As a team, we moved on and showed character to get the win over in Wales, then backed it up last weekend, but this is an even bigger challenge. We have to be sharp and ready from the off."