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Kearney: Isa is a real loss


Leinster players, from left, Rob Kearney, Brad Thorn and Ica Nacewa. Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Leinster players, from left, Rob Kearney, Brad Thorn and Ica Nacewa. Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Leinster players, from left, Rob Kearney, Brad Thorn and Ica Nacewa. Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

THE announcement that Isa Nacewa will leave Leinster at the end of this season gives the players and supporters plenty of time to say their fond farewells to a favourite son.

"I think it is very sad that Isa is leaving Leinster," said Ireland full-back Rob Kearney about his team-mate, who will end his rugby career for family reasons.

Thirty-year-old Nacewa is not fleeing Leinster for greater financial reward. He will end his playing career where it really took-off, in a land far away from his own.

"He's going to be a loss for Leinster, isn't he? He brought professionalism to a club that was trying to build a team and a culture," said Kearney.

It was in the summer of 2008 that the so-called Fijian one-cap wonder arrived into Ireland as a low profile New Zealander, in terms of the northern hemisphere, who had cut his ties with international rugby.

In truth, Nacewa's failure to find the legal loophole to allow him to compete for an All Black shirt proved to be a blessing in disguise for Leinster.

"On the field you need good players around you. He never had a poor game. As coaches and players, you want really consistent players. That means taking the right option 99 times out of 100. And he does that," said Kearney.

Nacewa made an immediate impact with a try on his first appearance against Cardiff Blues in the then Celtic League on September 6, 2008.

Since then, he has been a rock over the course of his five seasons, racking up 116 Leinster appearances, an incredible 110 as a starter, and has been pivotal to three Heineken Cups.

"Off the field, you need good men around the club and he is a really good fella, a really good team man with great levels of humility," added Kearney.

Apparently, Nacewa was part of the reason Leinster began to look in the direction of an under-the-radar assistant coach in Joe Schmidt nearly three years ago.

Nacewa famously labelled Schmidt 'Mr Rugby' from his time in Auckland. The theory was that no one could take Leinster forward from their 2009 Heineken Cup win under Michael Cheika.

It was one thing to reach the Promised Land, another to thrive there. There have been two more European Cups since in 2011 and 2012. Nacewa has been central to it all.

In a team sport, it is often trite to tag on individual awards. There is an element of embarrassment about taking the personal credit for the hard work of a wide group of players and management.

Still, they are there. In 2011, Nacewa was named the Irish Rugby Union Players' Association (IRUPA) and Leinster Rugby Bank of Ireland Player of the Year.

He was also chosen at full-back on the 'PRO12 Dream Team' for 2011 and shortlisted for the ERC European Player of the Year.

Thankfully, confirmation of Nacewa's departure has come in plenty of time for the Leinster management, squad and supporters to treasure the remaining minutes of a man going out right at the top of his game.

Leinster are still well positioned on two fronts in the PRO12 League and the Amlin Challenge Cup. Nacewa will be there through it all to show off the skills and commitment that have earned him cult status.

There can only be one 'Eeeee-ca, Eeeee-ca, Eeeee-ca'.