Wednesday 14 November 2018

'I was asked did I want to go to a World Cup' - Isa Nacewa on the decision that cost him his All Blacks dream but sent him to Leinster

Isa Nacewa after the 2010 Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Toulouse
Isa Nacewa after the 2010 Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Toulouse
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Isa Nacewa will go down as one of, if not the, greatest foreign imports in Irish rugby history but he could have been an All Black.

The curtain came down on Nacewa's incredible Leinster career last weekend (for the second time) and it couldn't have ended in a better fashion as he helped Leo Cullen's men to a historic double.

His international career lasted under three minutes. One cap for Fiji at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia. The 22-20 defeat to Scotland.

Fiji did try to convince Nacewa to return to the international fold in 2011 but he cited family reasons for turning them down.

"I was very young. I was 20 years old and I had just come off the back of winning the NPC with Auckland. I wasn't actually involved, I was the 23rd man that day and then you get asked, 'Do you wanna go to a World Cup?'. It's not a hard decision to make," he told The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast in association with Laya Healthcare.

"I didn't really think I was going to be an All Black then.

"I had only been in a semi-professional environment just on six months. There was always the dream as a kid but going to a World Cup was a pretty cool thing and the rest is history."

It was only when he was selected for the Auckland Blues in 2005 that he was listed as an ineligible player. He tried to reverse the decision but was unsuccessful and his dream of playing for New Zealand was gone. It was a decision which ultimately saw him look for a career in Europe.

"If I didn't get that cap then I probably wouldn't have spent 10 years at Leinster. So there are no regrets but I can say that now that I'm retired."

Leinster were not the only team interested in Nacewa's services but Michael Cheika convinced his to throw his lot in with the Irish side.

"I had a couple of offers from clubs around Europe but the fact that Cheiks flew to New Zealand and met me at cafe in Mount Eden. I thought that was pretty impressive in itself," he added.

"On the same trip, I think he went down the road to Hamilton because the Cheetahs were playing the Chiefs and talked to CJ van der Linde.

"That he went out there and talked to me face-to-face was a great start to our relationship.

"He said, 'You get the chance to play with Chris Whitaker (who I knew from his time with the Tahs),  Felipe Contepomi, Drico, Shaggy, the upcoming Lukey Fitz and Rob Kearney'. It wasn't a hard sell.

"I definitely wasn't going to a club that was renowned for kicking the ball. At least I knew I was going north to play decent rugby. Cheiks sold that to me in the café, I shook his hand and off we went."

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast in association with Laya Healthcare, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.

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