Time is now for Nacewa

Peter Breen

THEY say an Irishman’s best friend is his mammy. Leinster’s Auckland-born Isa Nacewa mightn’t have heard of the expression before his arrival two summers ago, but it’s one that he might certainly adhere to.

Last November the Nacewa family were graced by the birth of twin girls – Mia Rose and Ellie Milika – to outside-back Isa and his wife Simone, and visits by his mother-in-law, and now his mother, have certainly helped the transition from the simple life to the occasionally chaotic but wonderful world of family life.

Such is the joy that his daughters have brought him in just six short months that he couldn’t envisage life without them.

And if the amiable 27- year-old’s form this year is anything to go by, the stability and happiness they have provided, both professionally and privately, has enhanced the already high esteem in which Nacewa is held.

“I am loving life in Leinster and it is great that we’re approaching the final weekend of the calendar with a league title to play for,” he revealed earlier this week as the squad’s preparations for the Magners League Grand Final began.

“Motivation is never a question when you pull on the blue shirt. Take into account that we were playing against our biggest rivals in the semifinals of a knockout competition in front of a home crowd and you couldn’t ask for greater motivation than that.

“I was proud of the team’s performance because we stood tall defensively against Munster. Whenever you approach a team like them with the amount of talent that they have across the park, the important aspect is the physicality that you bring and there wasn’t that much of a margin between the two sides.”

Take the victory over Munster last weekend, when he readily flung his frame into larger bodies, taking hits and, importantly, making them at key moments.

Though he carved his reputation last year as a largely offensive weapon, his defence this year – allied to a 100pc kicking ratio in the recent bonus point victory over Edinburgh – strengthened the already held view that he is one of the most talented players to ever grace these shores.

Typically, he disregards any individual plaudits. With the all-round capabilities that the Ospreys will bring to the table in next weekend’s final, Nacewa knows that the familiarity of the two sides honed over several years of tense, close contests will demand an improved level of performance if they are to regain the Magners League title which the province lifted two years ago.

With some familiar faces set to descend on The RDS, Nacewa predicts a high-class fixture of international standard.

“I would know the likes of Marty Holah, Jerry Collins and Filo (Tiatia), having played them back in New Zealand and over here in recent years. They seem to be getting better and better and it will be a special game for Filo, especially, because it will be his last competitive game, so I’m sure they’ll come out (with) all guns blazing to send him off on a winning note.

“The Ospreys have international players right across their team. Obviously someone like Tommy (Bowe) has been in outstanding form for them all season and with players like Shane Williams, Dan Biggar, James Hook and Lee Byrne in such good form, we will have to play at a really high level to get the win.

“At this stage of the season it isn’t as much about the physical work that you get through because players in every team might be carrying niggles and minor knocks. It’s as much about how you prepare mentally.”

One of the drawbacks about plying your trade on the other side of the world is the inevitable occasional homesickness that creeps in. Nacewa has enjoyed spending time with his mother Barbara over the past few weeks and she will be returning home to Auckland on Sunday.

“It has been great having Mum around, and she has been a big help to Simone and I with the girls. “I didn’t come from a big rugby household. It’s just my three sisters, my brother and I, and none of them were into rugby before I started playing, but they have always been hugely supportive of me right throughout my career.

“From time to time it can be difficult living away from home, but once the season is over we’re heading home with the girls. Back to a New Zealand winter! Last summer we travelled around Europe, which was really good, but it’ll be nice to get home and spend a bit of time with our family.”

At tonight’s End of Season Leinster Awards Ball in the Burlington Hotel, representatives from every aspect of the game will celebrate another outstanding year for the province at all levels.

Nacewa regrets with a chuckle the timing, acknowledging that, like last year, the awards are being held a week before a major final.

Ask him who his candidate is for the major gong, he has no hesitation in suggesting Jamie Heaslip, or ‘Rocky’ as he is known by his teammates because of his outstanding form.

Nacewa believes that as the final hurdle approaches, the acclaim in which the departing coaches and players are held ensures that the larger squad are determined to give them the fitting send off that they deserve.

“It’s always a sad time when players and coaches move on, but that’s part and parcel of the game and just a part of life. Michael (Cheika) brought me to Leinster and I will forever be indebted to him for giving me the chance to play here. He has been a huge influence on my career.

“With Joe (Schmidt) coming in, who’s another coach with a young and enthusiastic mind for the game, it’s an exciting time for Leinster, but those are thoughts for the future.

“We all want to send off all of those great servants to the game in Leinster on a high. Right now it’s all about the Ospreys. We have great respect for them and they fully deserve to be in the final because they have been consistent for most of the season. They beat a strong Glasgow side in the semi finals and, with a trophy at stake, it will be our toughest test yet.”

The future couldn’t be further from Nacewa’s mind right now for he knows that the toughest test is imminent. In a sense, the time is now.