Friday 25 May 2018

Isa Nacewa adamant force is still with Leinster big guns

Leinster’s Isa Nacewa during training at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster’s Isa Nacewa during training at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

It has been a week where so many have turned out in their droves to see the Force re-awakened.

And tomorrow more than 42,000 - that figure can still rise as dramatically as the unseasonal temperatures - will throng the Aviva expecting another force to be shrugged from its slumber.

Leinster may continue to strenuously insist that they are only marginally away from producing the complete performance, but their worst losing sequence in European rugby betrays such optimism.


And so, as the galacticos of three-peat champions Toulon prepare to face an Irish side in Dublin for the first time - all three of their previous wins against Leinster occurred on French soul - the Irish outfit desperately need to deliver for their biggest audience of the season.

The ending of rugby's Star Wars, unlike its cinematic equivalent, will remain unknown until some time after 7.0 tomorrow evening; only then can we discover have Leinster embarked upon the road to redemption.

To do so, Leinster's blockbuster talents will have to demonstrate their worth, not only the off-colour Jonathan Sexton but a clutch of the senior players who have not performed to expectation. They simply cannot afford to fluff their lines as they did last weekend.

"We all think we are ready to explode," revealed Isa Nacewa, who shares the strident belief within the camp that the perfect plot - with a happy ending - is tantalisingly close to being realised.

"There are so many little things when you review a game, you think, 'What if?', 'Jeez, that was very close' and 'If this happened differently?' and a lot of it is within our control as players.

"That's a message we give quite regularly from within the playing group, that if we start executing well at the right time in games then we're going to be on the right side of the scoreboard when it's necessary.

"I feel that. And I really felt it during the three games of this European campaign, that we could have taken the game if we were in full control and executed. So there's no panic in the playing group.

"The leaders have to step up and take control and that's a no-brainer, especially in bigger games too when the game is on the line.

"These are the time where I feel the game managers and the leaders out on the field have to step up and take better control and make better decisions."

Much of the spotlight has been on Sexton, who seems to be enduring a constant struggle to recover from the abrupt World Cup ending which then segued into the prodigal one's re-adjustment to Leinster life.

"He is a class player and there is nothing else you can say about it, he has delivered on the biggest stage on a number of occasions," said Cullen; class is not the issue, however. Form is.

"There will always be a finding-your-feet period when he comes back in. He has come from an environment where he is learning a different language and dealing with all those permutations.

"That's where he has been used to day to day for two years and then you go into a World Cup where there is such a build-up to that.

"That has probably been building in his head since 2011 in Wellington when you lose to Wales in that World Cup and don't play.


"Suddenly this time it's over again and for him it is over under difficult circumstances as well, you get an injury so you miss out, you don't really get to put your stamp on it.

"He has to find his feet when he comes back here and he is great the way he conducts himself day to day.

"I wouldn't have any issues, as a team we are all looking for solutions to make us that little better and he would be no different. We are all working towards the same goal and I don't think we are a million miles away."

The dilemma may reside in how much Sexton's legendarily vehement struggles with his quest for improvement could cause fissures throughout the rest of the side; certainly, the propensity for errors appeared to be infectious last weekend.

"I don't necessarily think that if Johnny doesn't play well, Leinster don't play well. That is the beauty of it, of team sport. There are so many different ways to win rugby matches," added Cullen.

"I don't think you could ever be reliant on one individual, like a ten or somebody that is taking the goal-kicks.

"It puts an extra bit of pressure on those guys, it is such an extra-special bit of skill. It is like the guy who throws the ball into the lineout.

"You couldn't win a lineout if the ball is thrown in crooked. Similarly it would be hard to win a rugby match without having a guy who got the kicks.

"There are certain guys who have to stand up to the plate and perfect an individual skill that affects the whole team."

Cullen himself is not feeling any added pressure as he prepares for the biggest match of his fledgling coaching career.

"I feel pressure all the time," said Cullen. "I don't think the results have changed, I don't feel any additional pressure, I'm just concentrating on producing the best performance this weekend. We're playing to stay in the tournament until it is mathematically impossible for us to do so. And for this week, it's about producing a performance and correcting what went wrong last weekend.

"The guys really care about this team and they want to put in a better performance.

"The Leinster fans are turning out in big numbers and we need that support."

Irish Independent

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