Tuesday 21 November 2017

I'll be cheering the Irish lads on - from behind the sofa

Player Diary: Isa Nacewa

Leinster's Isa Nacewa
Leinster's Isa Nacewa

Isa Nacewa

A week off from the rigours of the rugby world is a welcome relief to all players but it's a funny one for those of us coming back from injury - you feel that a game right about now would be a nice target to aim for! But it wasn't to be as players set off on short breaks to recharge the batteries ahead of a massive few months for Leinster.

Looking back on the previous block of games, 20 points from a block of four games during the Six Nations is no easy feat. And even more importantly, the way in which we won those games speaks massively to all the hard work that is going on here.

While the players execute on the field huge credit must go to the team behind the scenes, whether that be Charlie Higgins our head of athletic performance, or Garreth Farrell and his team of physios, or Diarmaid Brennan and Tom Turner and the great work that they do with us in the gym or getting players back from injuries.

In that crucial block of games, we had players peaking in terms of performance and you also had players coming back into the mix and hitting the ground running. This takes a lot of work behind the scenes but is crucial in this part of the season when we are down so many experienced players.

The likes of Joey Carbery, Ed Byrne, Rhys Ruddock and Fergus McFadden for example - four players who had been out through injury , but who played a massive part in those four games. That doesn't happen by accident. They aren't just tapping away, they are being driven and are being managed so that they can return and have an impact, and again massive credit to all the staff behind the scenes.

What of the other players during this block of games? I have to say they have all stepped up massively.

Leinster's Ross Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Ross Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile

Ross Byrne has continued to take his opportunity at 10 and Joey Carbery has picked up in the same style at 15 as he did prior to his untimely injury in December.

We're not used to seeing him in a No 13 jersey but Zane Kirchner continues to be a leader and menace whatever position he plays and full credit to him for throwing himself into that role.

Throw in Jack Conan who has been a constant battering ram and superb getting us over the gain-line and then add in the leadership of Richardt Strauss and I'd say there are going to be more than a few selection dilemmas for the coaches come the big weekends post-Six Nations.

And isn't that what we all want? We will of course welcome back the guys from Irish camp but we want every jersey to be fought for and earned. Whether that be for the Cardiff game in the RDS next Saturday or the Wasps game in the Aviva a week later, every jersey is to be earned over the next few weeks.

Satisfied

So after maximum points from the four games we can be satisfied but by the same token look at how tight it is at the top of the Guinness Pro12 and we all know that there are always areas to improve.

This is why these non-competition weeks are so important in the make-up of our season. These weeks are all about getting better. Without the focus of a 'team' at the weekend we can actually look to ourselves and look to make improvements to things within our own control. So it's about fine-tuning. Self-improvement.

Usually about now the weather starts to take a turn for the better, which always seems to make hard sessions a tiny bit easier. A pep in the step and competitive on two fronts, it's where we want to be.

As the week draws to a close we will continue to put in the hard yards and will start to prepare for Cardiff. Those 20 points will mean nothing if we don't continue to improve and it all starts again with Cardiff.

So for this week we will train hard all week, then sit back and watch the game of the weekend: Ireland against England in the Aviva.

It's a funny one because obviously you want your team-mates to go well but you are wishing them well from behind the couch, as every tackle, every collision, there is always the chance that someone will pick up an injury.

So it's a mixed bag supporting Ireland but like everyone else the overriding emotion is to wish Joe Schmidt and all the boys the very best of luck this weekend.

There is also the small matter of the Ireland U-20s and the Ireland Women's teams also taking on England in Donnybrook over the weekend, with the Women's team still in contention for a Grand Slam having won all their games so far. It promises to be a great weekend.

And that is before I even mention the Legends game taking place in the RDS. Looking at the squad lists as announced during the week, most would still do a decent job! Others not so much. . . but that's for another day! A brilliant occasion in store and all proceeds going to Anthony Foley's family and in particular his two young boys. A worthy cause and a fitting tribute to Axel.

Once the weekend is out of the way it will be all eyes back on us properly as we start to ramp up towards Cardiff. It is crazy to think that there are only five regular season games left in the Guinness Pro12 and with three of them away from home against teams challenging for the top six, the home games are vital and we will need all your support. Looking forward to seeing you all next Saturday as the end of season run-in kicks off!

Irish Independent

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