Friday 16 November 2018

'Their stats don't lie' - Isa Nacewa highlights Racing's strengths ahead of Champions Cup final

Player Diary: Isa Nacewa

Isa Nacewa acknowledges supporters after Champions Cup quarter-final victory over Saracens. Photo: Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa acknowledges supporters after Champions Cup quarter-final victory over Saracens. Photo: Sportsfile

Finals Rugby here we go. I spoke in my last diary entry about Finals Rugby and about the extra buzz that it creates during the build-up to those knockout games, back then as we built towards Saracens.

We've come through two massive tests so now it's not so much Finals Rugby, just a Final. The Champions Cup Final. The biggest game in European rugby. I think it's fair to say that the lessons that we spoke about last year have stood to us but we have had to work bloody hard to get back to a first Champions Cup Final since 2012.

What we have trained and worked so hard for is to be still arriving into work every morning with a target to aim for and believe me there's nothing better than training at this time of the year in the sun. The winter is long enough! There is also nothing better than the energy around HQ in the build-up to finals footy. It's maybe not the time to look back but I must take this moment to thank all the people that have got us and the club to this point.

A huge thank you to the back office staff at Leinster HQ, for all the great days out this season. Great days at the RDS, and even better days at the Aviva Stadium. From all of us players, we can't thank you all enough for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and for all the hard work that often goes unnoticed.

To all our backroom staff, the physios, strength and conditioning staff, masseurs, analysts, our nutritionist Daniel, the docs, the interns. Thank you. To all our coaches. At times we probably under estimate the amount of time they spend analysing opposition and creating training and game-plans to get us to these special weeks.

So many people help and influence our lives on a daily basis just so we can go out and train and play 80 minutes. A big thank you to all that have helped get us to this point.

A final thank you to the supporters. From talking to the gang in the office, you haven't been shy in taking up our allocation of tickets and no surprise either that the demand couldn't be satisfied. That is such a brilliant thing. Knowing that in the stadium and at home, in the 12 counties, we will have people supporting us all through the 80 minutes.

As you have been all season through some amazing adventures. And let's not forget through some tough times too over the last few seasons. But you have stuck with us and hopefully you all get to enjoy the game and the city and make it there and home safely.

Leone Nakarawa. Photo: Getty Images
Leone Nakarawa. Photo: Getty Images

That's enough looking back because looking back and what's gone before is only what's got us to this point. It's no good to us tomorrow when we have to go to the well again. So back to the task at hand. Racing 92. If I was to sum them up? I would say world-class players with game-breakers across the team. That's a potent mix. They are a superb team and we won't focus on any one player because to do that would be to our peril but you look a their pack and the magic of Leone Nakarawa and then at their backs and at the speed of Teddy Thomas. They and their team-mates will test us to our absolute maximum.

And then we have to break them down. Their stats don't lie in the Top 14 or in the Champions Cup. The best defence. In both. That is the task at hand. It doesn't get much harder than that. But again these weeks, this week, this game. There is no place I would rather be.

So on to Bilbao. I've heard great things about the city and I'm sure that it will provide a fitting backdrop to a showpiece final and I hope that the travelling support enjoy the city and all that it has.

The last two Champions Cup games have been at the Aviva Stadium and have been some of the best atmospheres that I have ever experienced but I then think back to how brilliant the away support has been this season or seeing those blue pockets in and around the vast swathes of yellow against Clermont last season. But we saw them.

And we heard them. And they kept us going. So I can't wait to see all our loyal fans and the Leinster Blue Army travelling as they have done the whole season. Your ongoing support is a massive boost to all of us. Bring on Bilbao.

Leo Cullen looks on during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Leo Cullen looks on during training. Photo: Sportsfile

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