Tuesday 21 November 2017

Nacewa: We have benefited from having extended summer break

Leinster's Isa Nacewa
Leinster's Isa Nacewa
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When Isa Nacewa agreed to take on a role as mental skills coach with the Blues for the 2014 Super Rugby season, little did he know that a year later he would find himself back in the familiar surrounds of a place he had called home not that long ago.

It seemed for all the world that Nacewa's special bond with Leinster would be put on hold for a while at least after he cited 'family reasons' for leaving the club and returning to New Zealand.

Importance

In the last decade, an increasing amount of importance has been put on the mental skills side of the game and Nacewa owes a lot to Joe Schmidt for setting him on the path to delving more into what is a complex aspect of rugby.

The Ireland coach first prompted the versatile Leinster skipper to take a deeper look at mental skills in 2006 when Schmidt was an assistant coach at the Blues.

It has since allowed Nacewa to pass on a wealth of information that at 35, has also helped him remain in peak condition.

Leinster have hit the ground running in the new Guinness PRO14 as they have quickly dispelled any notion of suffering a hangover from last season's disappointments, domestically and in Europe.

After their visa issues in Johannesburg, Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park linked back up with the squad ahead of this evening's clash against the Cheetahs.

Despite being without the majority of their front-liners, Leinster's form shows no signs of letting up and Nacewa credits Leo Cullen and his coaching staff for altering their summer schedule again.

"Of course it lingers but I think you need that time to reflect," he said when asked what he has learned down through the years about mentally recovering from losing two semi-finals.

"It sometimes takes a couple of weeks to actually kick in. I think we had the bonus of having a couple of weeks off, coming back for two and a half weeks and then having another break.

"It's the second year we've done that and mentally it is really good because you're probably not over it by the time you come back but then you've got some down time after a little bit of hard work to really reflect and take a good hard at things.

"Being here for the start of pre-season always helps. It was very disappointing but looking forward and having some harsh meetings early on is always a good thing because it gets things out in the open.

"Chuck in an Irish tour and a Lions tour and there are still guys coming back at different times.

"I think Leo and Stuart (Lancaster) and the coaching staff have worked hard to find the time to debrief all the guys that were on the Irish or Lions tour.

"It might not have been as a whole team but they've let those guys download all of their thoughts on how last season ended."

The challenge that awaits at altitude in Bloemfontein should in theory at least, be altogether tougher than what Leinster encountered in Port Elizabeth against the Kings last weekend but confidence is justifiably high in the visitors' camp and the return of their skipper will only have enhanced that.

Dismal

The Cheetahs got their first points since joining the PRO14 when they saw off Zebre last weekend and their head coach Rory Duncan warned that they will be a different prospect to what Irish supporters will have seen from them in their dismal showings against Munster and Ulster.

"Coming to Bloemfontein at this time of the year, it's starting to get quite warm," Duncan explained of the conditions.

"We've experienced 30 degrees plus this week. Obviously playing at altitude is always an adjustment.

"As far as the game is concerned, we're in the middle of a drought so we are expecting dry conditions and that generally means a faster moving game.

"Our traditional style of rugby is to move the ball around. We're obviously going to do that at home. I'm hoping that the South Africans can give them the same hospitality that we received in Ireland."

Irish Independent

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