Thursday 14 December 2017

Isa: we must be at brutal best to deliver

NACEWA insists Blues must show 'ruthless intensity' and take every chance to crush classy Clermont

"Regrets, I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention... "

It's the time of the year when the lilting sound of Bing Crosby strikes a chord with a generation; when 'White Christmas' fills the air and people reflect about times past.

Professional sportspeople can't afford that luxury, especially when the next encounter comes thick and fast -- and all of six days after the previous instalment. The peculiar nature of December back-to-back ties in the Heineken Cup means that sides lock horns simultaneously, so what usually happens is that by the end of the 160 minutes they are one of two things; very familiar or sick of the sight of one another...

Isa Nacewa doesn't readily 'do' regrets, but as the team bus departed the Stade Marcel Michelin last Sunday evening, the Aucklander cast a frustrated glance and a shake of the head in the direction of the pitch where in the preceding hours a great drama had unfolded.

A solitary hard-earned point. Perhaps more could and should have been garnered by the away side as they attempted to become the first team in 50 attempts to defeat ASM Clermont Auvergne in that same arena, but luck and fate were not on their side.

There's no entitlement in sport, no more than there is in life, and Leinster dusted themselves down on Tuesday morning, after their recovery day on Monday, even more determined to face this weekend's battle with a renewed focus.

"We could have got more out of the game than the one point and we're disappointed," was Nacewa's blunt assessment of Sunday's Round 3 tie. Honest, frustrated, determined.

"For us to come away from any game with a loss is disappointing and because we have high standards for ourselves, even though we got something out of the game, it still felt like a tough pill to swallow. We had great support over in Clermont and we tried our hardest to get a win. But it wasn't to be and we know from experience that losing bonus points can be decisive when you get to the end of the pool stages. So the challenge for us this weekend is clear; Clermont are still a fantastic side. We still know each other intimately and both teams are still going all out for the win."

There will be a special atmosphere brewing come tomorrow afternoon and reflecting on the size of the crowd who will descend on the Aviva Stadium, Nacewa is almost incredulous at the level of support.

"For us as players to get the chance to run out on a stage like this twice a year, or maybe once or twice more if we're lucky, is an absolute privilege. And knowing that more than 95 per cent of the crowd are right behind you gives you such a lift.

"We know that we have to go out and perform at a really high level -- and that's the same this week as it is for every game -- but the more noise and the more support we can get behind us, the better our chances are.

"It's a short six-day turnaround for us this week and we were really tuned in from Sunday evening to get ourselves right. We have a proud record in the Aviva that we want to keep intact and the desire is there for us to show our supporters what we can do."

Some familiar foes will also add a festive spark to proceedings. "Yeah, Hinesy (Nathan Hines) is always a nuisance to play against -- in the best possible sense of course! He's constantly probing and really makes life difficult. Hinesy played a big role in our 2011 Heineken Cup success and his skill set around the park, coupled with his abrasive play up front, is something that we'll really have to watch closely again.

"Between him and the likes of (Jamie) Cudmore, they have some huge forwards who are all internationals. But when you look at the quality of their backline also, we know that we're going to have to be at our best. I was only talking about it with Bossy (Isaac Boss) recently, how Sitiveni Sivivatu gave me one of the heaviest defeats of my career back when I used to play with Auckland.

"We were playing Waikato and he scored five tries. He was virtually unstoppable. Obviously he has gone on to have a glittering career with the All Blacks and now with Clermont. But he's hardly the only threat in their backs that we'll need to quell."

Nacewa knows nothing more than maximum effort will stop the French juggernaut. But the 30-year-old notes the determination of the squad to get back to winning ways.

"Absolutely," he agrees, "and motivation won't be an issue for us on Saturday. We have to hit every tackle and ruck with absolute ruthless intensity and take any opportunity that comes our way. We know that we need to be more clinical when we are in possession and if we can gain some early momentum -- and with a huge and hopefully vocal crowd behind us -- we can get the win that we're looking for."

So before the province step into Christmas, there's a mountain to pass. The stakes have risen as Round 4 approaches.

And Nacewa does it his way.

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