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Isa: Treviso a huge threat

THE prospect of north-east Italy in the middle of September with temperatures soaring towards the 30-degree mark might well appeal to many. That is to say, unless you're a Leinster Rugby player this weekend!

Saturday night is very much a business trip.

The challenge of facing a steadily improving Treviso side in their own backyard is daunting enough without Mother Nature to contend with.

Throw in the first outing of a number of international players who won't have the benefit of several pre-season games under their belts and the challenge gets bigger.

Oh, and the fact that this day two years ago (albeit in contrasting Armageddon-type floods) Treviso delivered a 29-13 victory. For one of the league's supposedly weaker teams, as some quarters carelessly dub them, they have proven to be adept at ignoring the script. Just ask reigning league champions Ospreys who they defeated (12-6) in round one.

And the Italians, with a much-changed forward pack, put it up to Munster for long spells in Thomond Park last weekend.

So, when Isa Nacewa, the province's sole points scorer on that fateful night two years ago, tells you about some of the challenges facing Leinster as they aim to build on last weekend's bonus-point victory over the Dragons tomorrow night in Treviso, he does so with first-hand experience.

"Treviso away is in no way an easy game," the former Aucklander reflected ahead of the squad's departure from Dublin Airport.

"You only have to look at their record since the Italian sides have been introduced into the league a few years back. They're extremely well coached and year upon year they are adding subtle improvements to their squad. And they have some talented finishers who want to get their hands on the ball, which makes them a big threat.

"We have huge respect for them and this weekend will be an altogether new challenge for us."

Nacewa maintains that the physically arduous tests of playing in warmer temperatures cannot be underestimated.

Though he himself gained a huge amount of Super Rugby experience in differing atmospheres and climates prior to his move to the province in the summer of 2008, it has been a long time since he has played a competitive game in such conditions.

"On the one hand, there's going to be a freshness to our squad with a few of the international guys coming back. And that's great, because with the huge numbers that we're down just now through injury we need to have everyone chomping at the bit to play.

"When we played Northampton Saints a month ago in a friendly over there, the temperatures were similar to what we're expected to play in this weekend and it was a big challenge. During the pre-match preparations you have to hydrate that bit more and stay in the shade as much as possible.

"But I must say that this is one of the reasons why I love playing rugby in Europe so much. Personally speaking, I love travelling and sampling new cultures and we're lucky that we get to play Irish sides at home with all of the passion of those derby games with fixtures in Scotland, Wales and Italy -- and then in the likes of England and France when the Heineken Cup comes around.

"Experiencing new things and challenging yourself is why you play the game."

That injuries are part and parcel of professional sport goes without saying. Nacewa knows that personally, having spent a chunk of his debut season on the sidelines with a broken arm. With up to a dozen players currently out, Nacewa believes that the only positive is that players can work together during rehabilitation sessions.

"Honestly, I've never known an injury list like it in my career. I've been there myself and I know how hard it is when you're injured; training on your own, coming in early morning for rehab, not being a part of the match-day preparations or the team meetings, getting physio treatment at different times of the day than the rest of the squad. It can be tough and it does get players down from time-to-time without question because you do miss out on a lot of good times with the rest of the squad.

"The likes of Lukey (Fitzgerald), Dave (Kearney) and Eoin O'Malley - for example - were three important players for us. We built a lot of our good results off the back of their good form at times when the other guys were off at the Rugby World Cup last year. But we're not going to see any of them for the opening months of the campaign. That's a lot of talent and experience that you have to do without.

"But it does present an opportunity for others to shine. And I know that those on the sidelines are determined to all come back fitter and stronger."

He light-heartedly baulks at the idea of being regarded as an elder statesman in the backline.

"I've only just turned 30, you know," he adds with a smile.

"But there's no doubt that a safe pair of hands is needed at the tiller just now to guide lesser-experienced lights through choppy waters.

"Part of maturing as a player is adapting your role within the group and if I can help some of the younger guys, then I'm happy to do that. Schmidty (Leinster coach Joe Schmidt) has high expectations for each of us and he wants the players to feel comfortable and confident.

"After an up-and-down few weeks we're keen to build on the Dragons win because there were areas which let us down.

"There was a real buzz in training on Monday because so many new guys came back.

"And it will be the same in a few weeks' time when we will hopefully welcome back a few more of the injured players.

"With so many new Academy players - as well as the two new signings Tom (Denton) and Quinn (Roux) - it has been a staggered start to the year, but the more players we get back the more it can invigorate us."