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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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'It was great for Isa to win it for us with the last couple of kicks'

The 35-year-old stepped up when his side needed him most in the closing 10 minutes.

Murray Kinsella reports from San Mamés, Bilbao

WHEN JOHNNY SEXTON slipped during the second half and tweaked his groin, the presence of Isa Nacewa was as comforting as it has been so many times over the years at Leinster.

With the groin issue nagging it him, Sexton felt there was little point in him risking the injury getting worse in the middle of another place kick, the subsequent miss potentially costing his team in what was an incredibly tense Champions Cup final.

Isa Nacewa celebrates with the European Rugby Champions Cup trophy Nacewa won his fourth Champions Cup title with Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Making his decision to hand over the duties from the tee all that easier for Sexton was the fact that next in line was Nacewa, the 35-year-old pillar of mental strength.

Captaining Leinster on what was his final European appearance for the province before retiring, the wing showed his composure once again.

He nailed his crucial first penalty from wide on the right after some neat interplay from Garry Ringrose, Scott Fardy and Jamison Gibson-Park had led to Racing giving up one of many offside penalties, bringing the game to 12-12.

And when Wayne Barnes awarded what was to be the winning penalty under the posts with two minutes left, there was no better man to step up and send Leinster 15-12 in front.

“It was great for Isa to win it for us with the last couple of kicks,” said Sexton afterwards, speaking for all of Leinster’s players and management and backroom staff.

Nacewa and Sexton are two of the quartet who have won four Champions Cups as players with Leinster, Cian Healy and Devin Toner being the others, and the shared delight was clear at San Mamés.

Isa Nacewa kicks the winning penalty Nacewa pops over the winning points. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There have been no other playing imports into Irish rugby as successful as Nacewa, who has become a true legend of Leinster rugby and is even partly responsible for ensuring Joe Schmidt moved to these shores.

Nacewa, sitting alongside the trophy afterwards at San Mamés, was delighted that everyone at Leinster had been rewarded for their hard work and said that he believes even more success is still to come.

“It’s a special day for the province, for the club,” said Nacewa. “There’s been a lot of hard work that goes on in behind the scenes that people don’t get credit for – the back office, the coaching staff, the wider group of players.

“A lot went into this campaign alone and a lot of that probably goes unnoticed. We talked about taking another step up after Saracens and Scarlets and we did that. To do it on a bigger stage, with a different way to win the game, it’s pretty special.

“There is a solid core group of guys, minus me, pushing for higher honours after this. It’s good to be in good shape as a club going forward.”

Leinster have a Pro14 semi-final against Munster to come next weekend at the RDS – where tomorrow’s homecoming celebrations will take place – but Nacewa stressed the need for the squad to enjoy this achievement.

Isa Nacewa celebrates after the game The 35-year-old will retire as a Leinster great. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It was a long journey so you’ve got to make the most of this moment,” said Nacewa. “The week is what it is next week, we know what’s in front of us. We have to make the most of this special moment and then turn the page when the time is right.”

It remains to be seen exactly what part Nacewa will play next weekend and potentially beyond if Leinster can reach another final, but if he is involved again then his team-mates will be looking to him for a calming influence, as ever.

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Murray Kinsella

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