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'He loves this place. It’s been good to him and he’s been good for Leinster'

Isa Nacewa will retire after today’s Guinness Pro14 final against the Scarlets.

ISAKELI NACEWA WILL be remembered as one of the greatest Leinster players there have been, whether today brings a Guinness Pro14 trophy or not.

The man known simply as ‘Isa’ to most fans was already in that bracket before he came out of retirement in 2015 for his second stint with the province.

Originally brought to the province by Michael Cheika in 2008, Nacewa was part of the European Cup successes in 2009, 2011 and 2012, as well as the Pro12 and Challenge Cup titles in 2013.

Isa Nacewa celebrates after the game Nacewa bids farewell today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

To be more accurate, Nacewa wasn’t just part of those victories – he was at the very centre of them, in more ways than being among the best players on the pitch.

One of only two non-Irish men to have won the IRUPA/RPI Players’ Player of the Year award – Nick Williams was the other – Nacewa was also Leinster Player of the Year in 2011.

When he hung his boots up in 2013, he departed as a true legend of Leinster, only for the lure of his Irish home away from home to prove irresistible and he made a welcome return in 2015.

As he gets set to finish with Leinster for good today, Nacewa admits that he didn’t think it would take until 2018 for the province to grab a fourth European crown.

“It was just pure excitement to get back here and to push on and chase more,” said the 35-year-old, who is expected to return to New Zealand this summer. “The Champions Cup trophy took a little longer than expected to get to.

“The landscape had changed. I thought we could just rock back here and push that way straight away but we had to build and get to that point.”

Characteristically, Nacewa stressed yesterday that today’s Pro14 final [KO 6pm] is not about him – “it’s about our whole squad” – but every player in a Leinster jersey will be highly motivated by seeing him off with another title.

Isa Nacewa Nacewa is a Leinster legend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

His former boss at Auckland, Wayne Pivac, is in charge of the Scarlets team looking to spoil Leinster’s party and he said the pair of them had shared a joke in between the captain’s runs at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

“He just told me out there that he’s playing his last game,” said Pivac. “I said, ‘I’ll believe that when I see it, you said that once before!’”

More seriously, Pivac expressed a lack of surprise at how Nacewa’s career has worked out, having seen the once-capped Fiji international at the very beginning.

“It’s been fantastic to watch, I’ve known Isa since he was in our academy back in Auckland,” said Pivac.

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“I know he loves this place. It’s been good to him and he’s been good for the club. The fact that he’s an overseas player and he’s been captain says a lot about the individual. I know from my time with him coming through the system he was dedicated.

“He worked very, very hard on his game and that hasn’t changed since the age of 18 through to now. He’s a very proud man.

“He’s very proud of this Leinster club and he’ll want to go out on a high note. Unfortunately, we are here to stop that. But he’s a class act and a great ambassador for the game.”

The fact that Nacewa has carried a knee injury and various other knocks through recent weeks speaks volumes of him, with his physical condition limiting him to only 40 minutes in last weekend’s semi-final win over Munster.

“I’m definitely aiming for far more than 40!” he said ahead of the final.

Isa Nacewa is cheered off the pitch by teammates Nacewa is likely to get a huge reception today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

His head coach, Leo Cullen, was honest when asked about Nacewa’s impact on Leinster over his two stints, pointing out that he will be difficult to replace.

“He will leave an unbelievable hole in the club,” said Cullen. “I feel very lucky and the club should feel very lucky that they have had him as long as they have had.

“I just hope the guys go out and perform, put on a good show for him.”

While the rest of us may have been discussing his legacy and the best memories of Nacewa on the pitch for Leinster, or off it, the man himself hasn’t been allowing those thoughts to slip into his mind.

“I haven’t even started to think like that, it’s a weird one,” said Nacewa.

“I don’t think you can think that way just yet, that time will come. Maybe it will hit you in a month, maybe it will be three months, maybe it will be six months.

“There’s a lot of great memories this season but I can’t judge those until Monday of next week.”

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