Wednesday 22 August 2018

All the hard graft to earn a chance of 'finals footy'

Player Diary: Isa Nacewa

Isa Nacewa is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Saracens in the Champions Cup on Sunday
Isa Nacewa is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Saracens in the Champions Cup on Sunday

Isa Nacewa

The Champions Cup. It is the best of the best of European club rugby and this weekend will see eight of those teams battle it out in the first knock-out weekend. So much goes into just getting out of the pool stages, yet all that went before matters for nothing now.

That was all just a means to an end. And so much rugby has been played since then. Those six games seem so long ago.

Montpellier. Glasgow. Exeter back-to-back. Glasgow. Montpellier. And it's not just the games. That's the end product of all your labour.

All those early mornings and long days in pre-season - strict diets, weights lifted, kilometres covered - all just to be involved in finals footy.

Finals footy. That's why we do it. That's why we grind and push ourselves to the highest of levels.

Ask any captain at any PRO14 or Champions Cup launch, where do they see themselves in April and May and they'll say "finals footy".

Will Connors. Photo: Sportsfile
Will Connors. Photo: Sportsfile

We should never take getting here for granted, or what it took to get here. If it was easy, we would all be competing this weekend.

If it was easy, we would all be in Bilbao or in the Aviva Stadium for the finals.

It's not easy. It hasn't been easy for the Leinster 'A' boys to make it to the quarter-final of the B&I Cup against Munster today in Energia Park.

It hasn't been easy to negotiate our Champions Cup pool against three of the form teams in Europe. But we did it. And to think so much has happened then since the round-six win away to Montpellier.

James Lowe in action during training at Energia Park this week. Photo: Sportsfile
James Lowe in action during training at Energia Park this week. Photo: Sportsfile

We had the Beast from the East, and then the Mini Me version a while later. We had postponed games and cancelled holidays. We had #Benty100 and #Benty101 and even #Benty102!

Jordi also passed that landmark number for Leinster. We've had debuts for Will Connors (left), Ciarán Frawley and Adam Coyle. We've had an Irish debut for Jordan Larmour! We've even had the Grand Slam!

However, it is never all positive in this game unfortunately. Fast-forward eight weeks and we are minus two of our most consistent performers all season in Josh van der Flier and Robbie Henshaw. Plus, we've had the retirement of one of the finest players we've ever seen in Jamie Heaslip.

However, with Champions Cup quarter-finals, brings daylight saving and the slightest of hint that summer is on the way. There is after all a grand auld stretch in the evenings now.

Add the Grand Slam-winning Leinster players into the mix and our training intensity has gone through the roof.

It's been a joy to watch this week. The drive and hunger from Ireland camp has added a new intensity to our sessions.

There are so many opportunities over the course of a season but, in finals footy, there are so few numbers in the game-day squad. More than 50 players have pulled on the blue jersey this season and only 23 can make it to the Aviva on Sunday. That's why it is so important to remember that it's always an absolute privilege to be given the opportunity to represent Leinster in weeks like this.

There is a huge buzz about the squad to get to the Aviva on Easter Sunday and perform in front of our home crowd.

The fans are what makes the Aviva Stadium such a special place.

What better way to spend Easter Sunday than togging out against Europe's current standard bearers in Saracens?

I can't wait to see a packed Aviva at kick-off on Sunday at 3.30pm. See you all there.

Irish Independent

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