Thursday 26 April 2018

Pain of 2011 final loss fires Nacewa

Isa Nacewa.
Isa Nacewa.
David Kelly

David Kelly

The hunter who chases two rabbits, according to the old fable, catches neither.

The greatest European team ever assembled aim to rubbish that parable by completing the Heineken Cup and Pro12 double against the Ospreys on Sunday. And they mean business.

Isa Nacewa arrived into work on Sunday afternoon and he wasn't surprised to see a clutch of his team-mates already there just a few hours after downing Ulster so ruthlessly.

Rewind 12 months and Leinster were still literally drinking to their Heineken Cup final success against Northampton; Munster mugged them in the league final a week later in Limerick. They won't be fooled again.

Typically, Brian O'Driscoll was in the vanguard as Leinster's players congregated in the swimming pool the morning after the night before.

This year, they aim to swim, not sink, in pursuit of a glorious double.

"We've learned a lot since last year about refocusing," declared flying Fijian Nacewa. "It's been very player-driven this year in terms of enjoying the Heineken Cup win and then getting the bodies ready as soon as possible.

"And so pretty much straight after the game, everyone had it in their heads to start focusing on the Ospreys and recover well.

"It would be special to achieve the double. It hasn't been done before and we probably weren't in the right frame of mind last year. So being player-driven this year, coming straight all the way from the leaders all the way down, is important.

"I don't know what happened with the homecoming being cancelled this season or anything like that. All I know is that some guys enjoyed the win but there were a lot of guys in here on Sunday. We're preparing for a big week."

For all their European glory, this competition has burned them: they have lost the last two finals. The opposition rankle, too.

The Ospreys won the 2010 staging of the final at the RDS and have won in Dublin 4 already this season, completing a rare double against the Irish side.

Defeat in last season's final lingered like a bad smell throughout this campaign; it is something they do not relish repeating.

"Defeat would hurt us," confirms Nacewa. "There was a bitter taste in our mouth last year after we lost to Munster. We were on such a high and we all came crashing down pretty quickly and that was the way we finished our season.

Depth

"The whole squad has built on last year and worked on consistency. I don't think we've dropped a game away from home, we've drawn two but haven't dropped one, which shows the depth in our squad.

"Off the back of Heineken Cup wins, the following week the team has been completely different and we've still been able to grab wins, whether they've been pretty or not. That's been the biggest strength in our squad this year, our strength in depth.

"It's not like there's been anything officially said. But there was word around the dressing-room after the Heineken Cup final that we wanted to celebrate the win as we probably deserved.

"But then it was just about getting back to reality really quickly and focus on another final this week. We probably didn't do that as well last year, but this year we have."

The Ospreys have been forewarned, as if they needed to be. But then Leinster are similarly prepared to anticipate the Welsh side's formidable armoury, as particularly presented in their excoriating semi-final dismissal of Munster.

"We're up on a high at the moment," adds Nacewa. "But we have got to be realistic about how good the Ospreys are, so we are going to have to bring a better game than we did last weekend.

"They have won the last six matches and are on a bit of a roll. They've had a week off to recover also, so they are going to be in good shape.

"We do try to keep the two competitions separate but they've been a bogey team for us over the last couple of years. You've got the final at the RDS two years back -- they took it off us -- and we've lost over there.

"They're a tough team for us and from their point of view to knock off the European champions in the last game of the season it would be special for them.

"They're a nuggety side with real quality players who attack the breakdown hard.

"As you saw against Munster, they have one of the best attacking threesomes in the competition and they have scored some unbelievable tries. We've got to be on our game.

"A final is a final. They travelled here last time in the final and did a job on us. We have to be on our game -- twice this season we weren't and got punished. I think it is an advantage because we like playing at the RDS.

"It is not hard to get back up for another final. We had Sunday and Monday off just to calm the heads and nerves after such a big week and that was important."

So, even when they're off, they're on. That second rabbit is in their sights.

Irish Independent

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