Monday 19 February 2018

One dream dies, another comes alive

Two minutes for Fiji ended Nacewa’s All Blacks bid – but paved way for glorious chapter with Leinster

Isa Nacewa could have lined out for Leinster's opponents on Sunday had he followed Joe Schmidt to Clermont in 2008. Photo: Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa could have lined out for Leinster's opponents on Sunday had he followed Joe Schmidt to Clermont in 2008. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Coincidence is a closer relation to destiny than you might imagine.

Isakeli Nacewa has spent over 15 million minutes on this earth since his birth in Auckland on July 22, 1982.

Yet just two of them have prompted such a disproportionate influence upon his life that they remain integral to the man he once was, the man he wanted to be and, ultimately, the man he has become.

What if Nacewa had never trotted out for the Fijians in the 2003 World Cup for those fateful two minutes of international rugby against Scotland, a stint that tied him forever to the islanders, seemingly ending any hopes he had of playing for New Zealand?

Would he have come north at all, when the chance of an All Blacks jersey might have still been the remotest possibility for him?

And, when he did decide to leave his home for a new life, what if destiny had decreed that he follow 'Mr Rugby' – aka Joe Schmidt – to Clermont in 2008, instead of Michael Cheika's Leinster?


Only last season, fate seemed to intervene in Nacewa's life once more when the IRFU's overly hasty and bumbling policy on foreign imports seemed destined to peremptorily evict him from this country.

Happily, the governing body, who have allowed many other dubious journeymen to pitch their tents in this country, relented, allowing Nacewa to stay here until at least 2014.

Which makes it all the more ironic given that he may never have arrived here in the first place.

By early 2008, Auckland Blues star Nacewa, who had naively togged out for Fiji because they somehow convinced him it would not affect future qualification for the All Blacks, was being courted by a raft of northern hemisphere clubs.

Money was the chief pulling power.

"It was a good offer and I'm glad they came to the party", said Nacewa when he finally opted for Leinster in the spring of 2008, spurning amongst others Clermont, the Irish province's Heineken Cup rivals with whom they joust once more this Sunday.

Just as he made the decision as a mature adult – he was 21 – to represent Fiji at the World Cup, so too did he later clinically decide to absorb its consequences. By rejecting the land of his birth and his now increasingly redundant All Blacks dream in 2008, instead he decamped to a more lucrative career in the northern hemisphere.

Even after he arrived here, though, he was still committed to overhauling the IRB diktat that prevented him from erasing his Fiji record; had they done so, Nacewa may have returned to New Zealand as quickly as he had arrived.

As he landed in Dublin for the first time in his life in the summer of 2008, wearing the silver fern remained his dream. Teaming up with Leinster was, initially, merely a cold, commercial enterprise.

Circumstances have trumped coincidence since then, Nacewa has forged a family here and an inextricable link with the professional game in this country.

Leinster and their supporters have been the bountiful beneficiaries in the four years since he first pulled on a blue jersey.

And to think that he could have been representing 'Les Jaunards' at the Stade Marcel Michelin this Sunday. Remarkably, his old backs coach at the Auckland Blues, a certain Joe Schmidt, couldn't get the final backing to secure his target.


"That was a long time ago," smiles Nacewa when reminded this week of that particular fork in the crossroads.

"Joe just rang me up while he was coach there and he just had a few thoughts about it. That's all it really was, thoughts.

"I liked the way Joe was coaching after time with the Blues. It was a thought but I turned it down and came to Leinster instead.

"I can't really remember whether there was another offer on the table. I wasn't turning one thing down for the other. I just had Leinster on my mind."

While he may insist that he never gave Clermont a second thought then, it is virtually impossible for he or any of his Leinster colleagues to ignore the Massif influence of the French giants since then.

"Were it not for Brock James missing a drop goal, they might have beaten us in the RDS a few years back," he confirms.

"If it wasn't for Wesley Fofana just coming up short last year, we wouldn't have had a Heineken Cup. They are all class players and it's going to be a tough ask, for sure."

"They are 50 matches unbeaten at home, which tells you something. It's a tough place to go. They have an awesome support, an awesome crowd.

"They're the strongest team in Europe on paper, with so many international caps, and it's going to be a big one.

"We have just got to focus on ourselves. We know they are an unbelievable side and even what they call their second-string side still has hundreds of international caps. We've got to be on our game really."

That it is almost guaranteed that Nacewa will be on his game this Sunday is, unlike a lot of his life so far, entirely without coincidence. Quite simply, it is what he has become.

Irish Independent

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