IT DIDN'T take Isa Nacewa long to realise the significance of the Munster fixture to Leinster enthusiasts.
The Aviva Stadium. RDS. Thomond Park. Croke Park. Such is the passion expressed by the men in blue and red, you get the impression that if both sides were to tog out on a street corner for a tiddlywinks contest it would still draw thousands.
For those in both provinces and beyond, it is a game like no other.
In the context of stadia he has faced Leinster’s old foe in them all. But, irrespective of the backdrop, Nacewa says that |the intensity never wanes.
To date, the Aucklander |has made 95 career appearances for the eastern province |and his form this year has |again been good. But Nacewa swats away talk of personal |gain as collective endeavours bear far more significance. Coming off the back of a home defeat last weekend, he reflects, serves only to strengthen the depths of resolve that Leinster will have to dig deep for if they are to emerge victorious this weekend. “It’s never nice losing matches and to lose at home against the Ospreys last time out really hurt us,” the 29-year-old said this week.
“Maybe losing at this stage will give us a wake-up call because, if we’re honest about it, we’d probably admit that we’ve been a bit lucky to scrape out a couple of our wins over the last few months in tight games.
“We have now lost two games at home this season and that’s frustrating because we pride ourselves on playing in front of our home crowd in the RDS.
“Over the course of the last four or five years we have lost very few games there, and the fact is that we had control of the game and we let it slip. We know that we can’t be as careless this weekend.”
Tomorrow night, the latest chapter in this sporting tête-à-tête switches to Limerick.
It is a fixture, he believes, which has caught the imagination of a worldwide sporting audience.
“As an overseas player moving to Ireland back in 2008, I had obviously heard all about the
rivalry. But from the very start of that first derby you just buy into the occasion and everything that it means to both sets of supporters.
“And the passion just consumes you. It’s an unreal game; unlike any other I’ve experienced,” he added.
“I have obviously played in a few derbies back in New Zealand, but nothing matches Leinster v Munster in terms of sheer passion.
“For me, it’s one of the biggest rivalries in world rugby.
“Playing in Thomond Park is special because, for me, it’s right up there with one of the best atmospheres in the sport.
“We have been beaten the last two times we’ve travelled there, so that’s a run that we want to stop. We also want to maintain our lead at the top of the table as we enter into a busy time in the calendar.
“Their crowd is like a 16th man for them and they feed off it which makes it a challenging place to visit. But we have a fantastic group of supporters who turn up in huge numbers at home and I’m sure it will be the same away from home this weekend.”
With vital PRO12 points up for grabs, as the top half of the table seek a home play-off berth, Nacewa says the Blues have had little time to dwell on their frustration.
“Look, we know that we weren’t as clinical as we would have liked and we didn’t need reminding of that at the Monday morning review. We have been boosted by the return of another bunch of internationals this week, who have come straight back into camp with a spring in their step,” he said.
“Their experience and enthusiasm will be important for the squad going forward. It’s the same with Leo (Cullen), Brian (O’Driscoll) and Brad (Thorn), who all took the field last week.
“They’re three inspirational leaders for us and you can see the drive and passion they have.”
Nacewa knows that the hard work over the winter months must be built on as major challenges await. The focus this weekend, though, is on a proud Munster side in their own backyard.
“Sometimes, when you play away from home, you don’t have that much possession and you can be on the backfoot at times.
“That’s where you have to dig deep and show the kind of resolve which can get you out of those tight corners.”