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'It's a lonely time when you retire'

Nacewa concerned at mental health of players but admits he would love to coach at Leinster

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Isa Nacewa of Leinster is tackled by Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets during the Guinness PRO14 Final at the Aviva Stadium in May 2018. Photo: Sportsfile

Isa Nacewa of Leinster is tackled by Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets during the Guinness PRO14 Final at the Aviva Stadium in May 2018. Photo: Sportsfile

Isa Nacewa of Leinster with his daughter Laura following the 2018 Guinness PRO14 Final against Scarlets. Photo: Sportsfile

Isa Nacewa of Leinster with his daughter Laura following the 2018 Guinness PRO14 Final against Scarlets. Photo: Sportsfile

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Isa Nacewa of Leinster is tackled by Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets during the Guinness PRO14 Final at the Aviva Stadium in May 2018. Photo: Sportsfile

It was late one evening at the end of last month after Isa Nacewa had put his kids to bed when he began to think about the position that many professional rugby players currently find themselves in.

Two years ago, Nacewa was in the same boat as he attempted to come to terms with his own impending retirement, but unlike most players, he got to bow out on the highest note possible by winning the Champions Cup and PRO14 double with Leinster.

Nowadays, rugby doesn't dominate his agenda. Nacewa devotes his time to his wife Simone and the couple's four daughters Mia, Ellie, Lucy and Laura, whilst also juggling his new career as a financial advisor.

Prior to taking on a job in the "real world", Nacewa avoided social media but in the last couple of years, he has been encouraged to use it as a means to keep in touch with colleagues and clients.

Throughout his eight years in Leinster, which included two hugely successful spells, as much as his glittering performances would often propel him into the limelight, he never sought the public attention.

It was perhaps somewhat surprising then when Nacewa decided to take to Facebook and write a deeply profound post, which he hoped would encourage anyone who was feeling down "or worse, suicidal" to reach out for help.

"I was just sitting there thinking: It's such a lonely time for people who are going to retire and it's usually always around the Six Nations," Nacewa says over the phone from his home in New Zealand.

Lonely time

"I got to retire twice, so I've felt those feelings before. It is quite a lonely time when everyone around you is talking about what pre-season is going to be like, there is a lot of good feeling around the camp, new signings are being announced.

"I always felt for guys who are retiring, it's a really lonely time because you're going through something completely different. It just struck a chord with me. I kept hearing about competitions around the world being cancelled or put on hold, and I was just thinking: 'There are not many competitions left, imagine if people are retiring.'

"I kept thinking of my close friends in Leinster that are going to retire this year. I thought 'Jesus, they won't pull on the boots again.' It's massively unfair if you have to retire injured and your career gets cut short, but a pandemic?

"My feeling behind writing the post was that the guys in that position, it's just going to hit them all of a sudden that they are not going to pull the boots on again.

"I think it was the first post I have every written. I got my wife to check over it to make sure I didn't sound like a d**k.

"A lot of people have messaged me saying 'Jeez, Isa, thanks for writing that post, it really struck a chord with me, I am going through exactly that now and I don't think I am prepared for retirement.'"

Nacewa has always taken a keen interest in the mental side of the game and has already worked as a mental skills coach with his home town club, the Blues.

Behind the scenes, players and coaches at Leinster all speak very highly of the 37-year old's remarkable legacy and him speaking out like this gives an insight into his mindset around helping others.

"There are so mental issues anyway, imagine having Covid-19 pile on top of you too," Nacewa continues.

"I'd say there a lot of people out there who it still hasn't really kicked in how real this is.

"Also, part of the post that I didn't mention that I was thinking of writing was... a lot big-time rugby players have huge social media followings. But 90pc of rugby players out there don't have that following, so they don't get that recognition and can't sign off like that.

"If you pile on the mental issues of that transition and Covid-19, then suddenly I am just sitting there going 'S**t, there are a lot of people out there who are probably struggling right now.'"

Nacewa still receives messages on the back of his post and is happy to help anyone who may be struggling during these difficult times.

Even in retirement, the Kiwi is playing an important role, but he warned that depression is becoming an increasingly bigger problem in rugby.

"This has been a massive reality check, not just for professional sports people.

"I understand myself how the depression rates will sky rocket through this because there is just so much uncertainty.

"From the real practical point of view, having a lot of time to think is not always a good thing."

Nacewa also admitted that he would love nothing more than to retun to Leinster in a c oaching role.

"The timing has be right for everyone to get back into coaching, but I definitely think it'll be one day rather than not at all."

He admits that he would "absolutely love to coach Leinster one day" and is still in regular contact with Leo Cullen, which is further evidence that his bond with the club and the people it represents, is as strong as ever.

"Would I like to coach Leinster one day? Absolutely. I would love to," Nacewa said. "When that time will be, I just don't know. But it's not the last time we will be in Dublin, that's for sure.

"I'll never say never. We love Dublin. We love Ireland. We love Leinster.

"I still get up and watch Leinster matches. I haven't missed many. That's still my go-to. I'll chime in my five cents to Leo every now and then, if he ever asked. But the way they were going this year, it was phenomenal.

"I won't lie, I would always be on the lookout for keen recruits to go to Leinster, if there was ever the right person to fill people's shoes.

"It's nothing formal, but I always stay in contact with Leo. I still get the odd email from Stuart Lancaster every now and then, just sharing ideas on the game."