Monday 23 September 2019

Isa's legacy lingers as Leinster hunger for more glory

Isa Nacewa celebrates with his family after Leinster’s victory in the Guinness PRO14 final. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa celebrates with his family after Leinster’s victory in the Guinness PRO14 final. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

'What would Isa do?'

Leinster are now masters of all they survey. Titanic in Europe and totemic among these islands, but success is always fleeting.

It cannot be sustained, much as one would wish and strive to do so. Lord knows they will endeavour with all their might to repeat the feats of this remarkable season, but it may not happen. And so legacy is what will bind them if some bad times arrive amidst the good - perhaps when James Ryan finally meets a final whistle accompanied by the unfamiliar feeling of defeat.

For nothing can ever be the same as this.

Even if they sweep all before them next season, Leinster will forge a path with a slightly altered cast, with a changed mindset and an even more adaptable game-plan.

Success, not always in one's control, may not be perpetual. But its legacy can be.

In Leinster's unceasing desire to change in order to prevent themselves standing still, there will be stumbles aplenty, just as there were many mis-steps along the road to climbing this year's summit.

And so it will be in those moments of quiet contemplation when they will reflect and ask themselves the question that might prompt them to pick themselves up and scale even greater heights.

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'What would Isa do?'

Leo Cullen spoke about the sweet taste of success and how it will linger, so briefly, upon their squad's lips.

It seems - just like Jordan Larmour scooping up an impossibly bouncing ball at full tilt - that Leinster have the whole rugby world in their hands, but the moment of absolute supremacy leaves one more vulnerable as ever to assault.

And so Cullen reminded us of Montpellier's awesome display on Friday night and then Saracens' return to English primacy a day later.

"It feels like we're at the end of something that has been in creation for a long time now," he said.

"The challenge now is to dust everyone off, reflect on the achievement and then try to go do it again.

"This group will move on, we will never have the same group again. That's the nature of the business."


Isa Nacewa had pledged to last more than his 40-minute stint against Munster, but ultimately his calf blew in half the time; however, he did lift the trophy to set the triumphant seal on his second stint with Leinster.

"Seeing him lift the trophy makes me happier than anything," said Cullen.

"I feel like an irresponsible parent, the fact that he was out there in the first-half. It's hard to deny him.

"He stepped up to score those two penalties against Racing in the final so this has been a great finish to his career. I'm so happy for him."

Leinster's most gilded import will now - finally and firmly - retire, but the Fijian is already anticipating an even brighter future ahead for the side he leaves behind.

"There's a standard here at Leinster you have to live up to every day and you can't hide from that. I'm not making that now, so it's time for me to bow out," he said.

"Talking to Drico during the week, we were chatting about how at some stage, physically, you know you can't keep going.

"At times, mentally, you might get to a point where you think 'enough is enough'.

"I came back here to win trophies, Johnny Sexton came back as well and we had an evolution in the Champions Cup which took a bit longer than we expected.

"It took a lot longer than expected, but we used 55 players this season in both trophies and the coaches have been phenomenal.

"The Leinster standard here with the young guys coming through and the future that they'll create for themselves if they stay humble and keep working hard is going to be pretty phenomenal to watch.

"I'll be in the first-row seat keeping an eye on these guys."

Leinster joined an exclusive club on Saturday.

Only Wasps, Leicester, Toulon and Toulouse had managed to capture both domestic and European crowns in the same season.

Martin Johnson's all-conquering Tigers stand apart as the only side to do the 'double double', in 2001 and 2002.

Garry Ringrose reflected on all that it took to get Leinster to this place and all it may take to bring them further.

"We do talk about the legacy that's there and the work that has been put in. Things have not always been rosy for Leinster as a club," he said.

"There were guys who had to endure that and then work hard through that. We talk about that and we have the opportunity to add to it all.

"It is pretty weird thinking back... I would have idolised some of those teams in the past. Now I have gone on to have done something like it as well, along with guys like Isa Nacewa. It's a pretty cool feeling.

"He represents exactly what Leinster should be about, so to win all this alongside him and finish the year like that for him is pretty cool."


Twice in the past Leinster had the opportunity to complete the double, but on both occasions it eluded them; Ringrose could never understand why.

"I even asked Isa and one or two other lads. I'm looking in from the outside and I would have been asking them.

"How come they weren't able to do it? I'm sure Joe Schmidt was sending the same messages as Stuart Lancaster and Leo, but he couldn't really put his finger on it. They were all really good teams in the past too. Obviously there's a bit of luck.

"Now I'm grateful to be part of a special group who just got over the line. I think the teams in the past kind of have to fail, and learn from failures to ultimately get the success.

"So that's why we credit some of the players that have gone before. Some of the guys that have gone before have had to learn from that experience and then ultimately manage to do it."

For legacies embrace failure as well as success. They demand new leaders, to emerge. And Leinster have them.

But as they forge the future, they will continue to ponder the past.

"You have guys like Isa and others who have won a few European Cups and now the double," said Ringrose.

"I suppose when Isa is gone I can ask myself, 'what would Isa do?' And that is usually a good rule of thumb as to how I should carry myself and how the team should carry itself.

"Guys like that set the standard and I'm sure we will still hold ourselves to those standards when he is gone."

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