Monday 19 February 2018

Nagle wary of ambush with big weeks looming

The Big Interview: Ian Nagle

Ian Nagle hopes he can shine against Benetton tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile
Ian Nagle hopes he can shine against Benetton tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile
Ian Nagle against Joe Davies of Dragons in a lineout last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Ian Nagle. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

For the modern rugby player quite often rugby talk and in particular rugby talk with media can be the last thing on the agenda. But when you've missed the start of the season and are only getting into your straps in December, talking rugby and looking forward to games is a very welcome change. Take Ian Nagle as the classic example.

Last Friday in the RDS was his first involvement of the season in a competitive game after suffering a pectoral muscle injury.

With a busy eight weeks ahead, he couldn't have timed his comeback any better, but it has been a frustrating start to the season nonetheless.

"I had a good pre-season and played in a few of those games but just as I was ready to kick on the injury happened.

Lucky

"I was lucky in that it was relatively straightforward but it was a rare one.

"Garreth (Farrell), our physio, has only ever seen four in all his years in Leinster. Luckily it was the same injury that Robbie (Henshaw) had from the Lions tour so there was an easy point of reference there with him and what he had gone through, what his markers were."

The doc or the physio telling you is one thing; that reassurance from a fellow player is priceless.

"Robbie was great because you can feel good and you're trucking along but you might get a feeling or a sensation and you start to doubt but having him to discuss it with was great because you know then that this pain is normal and is just part of the process. I'm actually two weeks ahead of schedule so really it couldn't have gone much better."

Twelve months ago the conversation around the former Munster lock was also about a return to rugby but this time injuries weren't a factor.

In April 2014 he announced that he was leaving Munster to take a break from rugby. A return to the books followed and an MBA in Cambridge University but before long rugby was again in his sights. First at intervarsity level and later at professional level again.

"What's great is that I know it was the right choice. To be fair I knew that very quickly when I came into Leinster and the set-up.

"It's unbelievably competitive here but it really brings out the best in people and I'm just delighted to be back playing rugby and in particular at a time when I really feel that there is something special brewing away here at Leinster with the talent that we have and hopefully I can play my part in that."

With a first gallop under his belt from the bench last weekend against the Dragons, a first start of the season awaits tomorrow in Treviso.

The renaissance of Italian rugby has been well documented. The influence of Conor O'Shea, Steve Aboud and Michael Bradley equally so.

And in Benetton Rugby another man has been having just as big an impact in head coach Kieran Crowley.

"Italian rugby is definitely evolving and you can see that. A few big results internationally and for both PRO14 teams. For Benetton everything we have seen this week has shown us that they have come a long way this season. You look at them last weekend, they should have beaten Ulster in Belfast and we know how tough a job that is to do.

"A few months ago they should have beaten Toulon in Italy in the Champions Cup.

"That's a team people would have close to being favourites for that trophy. They've been massively competitive in all their games.

"Three good wins in the PRO14, losing bonus points in others. They've always been a creative team, you never know what they will do from game to game and Kieran Crowley has them playing some really good stuff. They're tough to break down."

All of the above may be true but it's hard to convince a sceptical public that the trip to Treviso will deliver anything other than the five points. Nagle has enough bad moments banked to know that every inch needs to be fought for before points are even discussed.

"There has never been a time when you thought a game against an Italian team was a walkover or anything of the sort.

"We've all had moments that we'd like to forget against Italian teams whether that is lads that have played against them in the Six Nations or have played them in the PRO12 or PRO14.

"They're really intelligent players and coaches. Their rugby knowledge is under-appreciated I think.

"The most recent example of that was in the Six Nations last year and Conor O'Shea's tactics against England. Genius.

"And you had various players, coaches, media people questioning it but they knew they were well within the laws of the game. They're always looking to do something different, they're a little bit outside the box and that tests you."

When you add all that into the mix of playing in November Test window or Six Nations, it doesn't bode well for a lot of teams.

"The timing in the season sometimes doesn't help the teams going over there and that sometimes lends itself to below-par or disjointed performances. But that's just an excuse.

"Like any team if you give them a start, give them a foothold in the game, get their crowd involved, it can be a long afternoon. So you need to prep for that to ensure you don't give them anything.

Standard

"I think people underestimate how good the Italian teams are. Maybe they see the smaller crowds or pitches not at the same standard, but I think often the standard of rugby is very high. And if you're not mentally right for it, you get found out and that's been a huge focus for us this week."

After this weekend all eyes will then turn to Exeter in the back-to-back Champions Cup games with the game in the Aviva Stadium in Round 4 already catching the imagination of the Leinster supporters.

But while he readily admits it's there in the back of everyone's minds, they can't lose focus on what's ahead of them.

"Scarlets are seven points ahead of us in Conference B and these games played now maybe have less media or public focus but they have just as big an impact on that end-of-season race as the games played in April."

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