Sunday 18 November 2018

Dream Euro finale for Blues' match-winner Nacewa

Leinster coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Leinster captain Isa Nacewa signed off his European career with the province in Bilbao last night by applying the six points his team needed to turn a losing final into a winning one. The 15-12 success over Racing 92, in front of a crowd of 52,282, puts Leinster on a par with Toulouse as the only sides to win four Heineken/Champions Cup titles.

"It was a special day for the province, a special day for the club," Nacewa said. "There's a lot of hard work put in behind the scenes and people don't get credit for the hard work that goes on: the back-office staff, the back-room staff, coaches, players who weren't involved today. A lot went into this campaign alone that goes unnoticed, so it's a massive day for the club.

"We talked about taking a step up after Saracens and Scarlets and we did that, and to do it on a bigger stage and in a different way to win the game was pretty special."

Leinster were never able to get enough control on a game where rain made handling difficult. To win it without scoring a try - or conceding one - had not been part of anyone's pre-match plan but when it came to holding their nerve in the endgame Leinster proved strongest.

"It's a credit to the players the way they dug it out and stayed composed right to the end - a relief really," said coach Leo Cullen - who became the first man to win as both player and coach.

"I think 'obsessed' is probably the word about this tournament. I'm very lucky - the club are very supportive of me. A huge amount of work goes into producing, for the most part, home-grown players, so there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes bringing guys through. You could see the young guys who were there today - they were very lucky. We've got clubs and schools that we rely very heavily on - that's where our recruitment comes from, the Academy system et cetera. So we get a couple of guys coming in from the outside to add as well but I'm just pleased because I can see the work that goes on.

"It's a credit to the players, they're the ones who put the work in; they're the ones with the brave deeds on the day."

Included in that number was man of the match James Ryan. Incredibly he has yet to lose a game as a professional having started that career with Ireland ahead of Leinster. He wasn't Leinster's top carrier or tackler yesterday but his ability to get the team over the gain line was vital in what developed into a battle of inches.

Leinster will have a homecoming this afternoon at 4pm in Energia Stadium, Donnybrook, before starting their preparations for the Guinness Pro 14 semi-final against Munster at the RDS on Saturday. Johnny Sexton hurt his groin in yesterday's second half, which prompted him to hand the kicking duties over to Nacewa, so he will be a doubtful starter in that derby.

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