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No sign of Nacewa slowing down as Leinster captain continues to defy his years

The 35-year-old returned to play an important role in the province’s win over Saracens.

Nacewa had a big part to play in two of Leinster's tries.
Nacewa had a big part to play in two of Leinster's tries.
Image: Brendan Moran

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

THE WUNDERKINDS STOLE the show again, playing key roles in this imposing Leinster victory, but in a young man’s game, 35-year-old Isa Nacewa continues to roll back the years.

Deep in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium, the Leinster captain hobbled out of the dressing room to speak to the media, the physical toll of a ferocious contest evident in the grimace on his face.

It was Nacewa’s first appearance since a 45-minute cameo against the Southern Kings at the start of February and first 80-minute shift since the final pool game in Montpellier at the back end of January.

The Auckland native shared a moment with Saracens’ Schalk Burger, himself 34, when all was said and done, quipping that he was too old for this lark, relieved more than anything that his side safely negotiated this litmus test of a quarter-final.

Leinster have been smart in managing the captain’s workload this season, knowing the importance of having him fully fit and available to partner Garry Ringrose in the absence of Robbie Henshaw, and while he slipped off a couple of first-half tackles, Nacewa demonstrated his enduring worth.

“Sore,” he began the post-match press conference.

Nacewa made 15 tackles in that busy midfield channel but his most significant contributions came in the build-up to two of Leinster’s three tries, the highlight being his burst down the left in the early exchanges.

Garry Ringrose’s vision created the opportunity, the centre linking with Nacewa, who in turn hit James Lowe on the touchline.

The Kiwi winger burst through Liam Williams’ attempted tackle, with the Leinster captain, ever-willing, getting it back off Lowe to tear past the covering Jackson Wray and Richard Wigglesworth, before drawing in the last man — Alex Goode — and hitting Ringrose with an inside ball.

Isa Nacewa celebrates after the game All smiles at full-tine. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ringrose was the orchestrator but once Nacewa defied his years with an impressive turn of pace, Leinster were in business and there was only ever going to be one outcome to a glorious set-piece move.

Nacewa had an equally important part to play in Lowe’s try, and Leinster’s third, at the end of a ruthless and brutal third quarter from the hosts, shunting Maro Itoje out of the way to allow the winger collapse over the line.

Less glamorous, equally effective.

“We respect everything they do, we knew they were a champion side and would keep fighting,” he said. “They did that. A lot of credit goes to our bench, they came on and stuck to the systems and gave everyone a lift when it was needed. It was a tough game.

“We knew we had to come out and stick at it and keep playing like you have to against a champion team like Saracens. We did that and were able to get up on the scoreboard which was really important.”

The reward for Leinster is a home semi-final against familiar opposition in the form of defending Pro12 champions Scarlets, with whom they had two fiercely-contested games against during the Six Nations window.

Leo Cullen’s side will go into the last four tie at the Aviva Stadium as firm favourites on the back of this performance and their consistent form over the course of the season, but Nacewa knows Wayne Pivac’s charges will pose another considerable challenge.

“You definitely know a lot of the players a hell of a lot more,” he continued. “Three times in the last calendar year alone we’ve played. It’s been a bit of a rivalry for us in the last while. They definitely got one over us in the RDS last year in the Pro12 semi-final.

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“They’re such a good attacking side these days and they showed that the other evening [against La Rochelle]. They’re a really tough challenge and one we’ll have to learn from today and really build for.”

Isa Nacewa during the post match press conference The Leinster captain speaking of yesterday's win. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

But Leinster, off the back of Ireland’s Grand Slam success, have become a consummate, experienced and driven side seeking further silverware this term, fuelled, too, by the sting of last year’s semi-final defeat to Clermont.

“We have a really motivated squad. They are really hungry, a lot of guys coming off a Grand Slam and adding another level of intensity to the team. And we’re a strong squad, there are a lot of guys who weren’t playing tonight who would have been itching to be there.

“It was a tough pill to swallow, losing a semi-final as we did away last year to Clermont. That has been etched in the back of our head and it is something we don’t like feeling. We have talked about it a lot and off-season, we have learned from it. We took a big step tonight to earn another 80 minutes of footie. It’s knockout rugby. There is no room for any more mistakes.

“There has been a feeling throughout the squad, in both competitions, all year. Everybody who steps in as a huge responsibility when pulling on a Leinster jersey. You have to keep those standards up every year. There is a lot of enthusiasm.”

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Ryan Bailey

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