Tuesday 12 December 2017

Isa call for cool heads

Nacewa urges win over Munster while insisting poor form will not panic Blues

When Isa Nacewa talks about the chance to start a new chapter, his words are far-reaching. When he crosses the whitewash in the Aviva Stadium, he will do so in front of a record breaking crowd in a state-of-the-art arena.

Friends to the left and right of him will help settle any niggling anxiety, but he need only look ahead to the familiar sight of Munster's Doug Howlett to chart the turn of fate which has taken him to the pinnacle of the European game.

Chances are, though, the thought won't even cross his mind. Of course he will be desperate for the right result as well as a performance to signal a new beginning for the province after the inconsistencies of the last two weekend trips to Treviso and Edinburgh.

When the versatile Aucklander pledged his future to the province for a further three years it was vindication that the decision he made over two years ago was the right one.

In 47 appearances for the province he has displayed wholehearted skill and professionalism, and that has won him a place in the hearts of the Leinster faithful.

He swats away such compliments with the kind of dexterity he displays in a subtle offload or in an injection of pace, just two features which have become the hallmark of his play.

To those two qualities he has added a third string to his bow, a telling contribution with the boot. An all-rounder of immense capability, his focus is on the here and now. Namely the arrivals of some familiar foes that have helped catapult this fixture into the realms of the sporting universe.

"There's definitely more and more excitement as the game approaches, but we know that we have to make a marked improvement if we're going to get a result against Munster", is the 28-year-old's verdict when asked about the significance of tomorrow night's derby.

"If you look at our performances recently, the big area that we need to improve is our defence. We don't need any motivation other than the disappointment of our defeats over the last two weekends. Then when you throw in the Aviva Stadium factor and the rivalry between the two teams then it's going to make for an incredible occasion. I just can't wait for it to come along now."


Nacewa hasn't been inside the landmark arena prior to Leinster's visit this week, but having seen the development grow across the south Dublin skyline, he is impressed and excited.

"I have seen the stadium at the few games that have taken place on TV, but I can't wait to get in there. It's certainly a fitting stadium for a game of this size and it just goes to show how much the interest has grown that over 50,000 supporters will pack in," he said.

"You enjoy playing in the big games and it's important to try not to focus too much on the magnitude of the game. It was the same on the week of the Croke Park semi final. A lot of the hype and the build-up has gone over my head this week because I tend not to read the newspapers until the end of the season.

"I remember in my first year with the (Auckland) Blues making one or two mistakes in a game. It wasn't that I missed two try-scoring opportunities or anything, but the newspaper coverage really affected me over the next few weeks. One of the older professionals took me aside and suggested I ignore what was written in the press.

"I took that on board and now, at the end of the season when I have a bit of time off, I'll google some of the interviews and the reports and properly assess the coverage. So I'll block off a lot of what goes on in the build-up and use it on match day."

He is looking forward to catching up with his good friend Howlett after the game. "Lots of players look up to Doug and he's a huge asset to have in any team because of his experience and his ability. He has been in great form for Munster this year and with their fast backline and strong pack of forwards we'll have to be mindful of their threats."

You sense with Nacewa that a lot of what is relevant in his own life stems back to his homeland. The arrival of Joe Schmidt three months ago signified an element of symmetry as the Leinster coach was a prominent figure in his development.

"Joe has hardly changed at all since those early days", Nacewa reveals. "He has put a lot of his own ideas in place and it's inevitable that it will take time for the players to get them right.

"Cool heads count in pressure situations and we know that we have to step up to the mark."

Has the panic button been pressed following some of the in-house analysis? "Not at all", he stresses. "I suppose the chief emotion is anger more than panic. As a group we're frustrated that we haven't managed to find the consistent levels that we know that we're capable of and as individuals we have been very hard on our own performances.

"You definitely couldn't have asked for a better game to kick-start things because we know that we have to play at our best to beat Munster because they're the in-form team in the Magners League.

"This is the one game when motivation isn't an issue. It is definitely one of the biggest rivalries in club rugby and you can feel the buzz around the province, which feeds from the supporters to the players.

"This game is all about the supporters. Nothing else matters. The atmosphere will be electrifying on Saturday night and with a good week's training behind us, we're going to approach the game in a positive manner."

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