Hashtag Isa Isa Isa

Today Leinster announced that bona fide Ledge-bag (D4 for Ligind) Isa Nacewa has re-signed with the province. The reaction from fans has been largely positive – and why not indeed, Nacewa being firmly established in the pantheon of all-time Leinster greats with the likes of Cameron Jowitt and Simon Keogh. No, that’s not right. But you get the idea – his contributions and leadership in his first spell were critical, particularly for the Joe Schmidt iteration of Leinster. He made key contributions to all three stars on the blue jersey, and his try against Leicester Tigers in 2011 will live long in the memory.

But why is he coming back? And why are Leinster signing him?

Nacewa has spent the last couple of years as “mental skills coach” for the Auckland Blues, whatever that is – while he has still been in a professional rugby environment, this isn’t the same thing as playing; there’s no tangible connection between the role and retaining match fitness or match sharpness.

A further curiosity is that the Leinster statement around his arrival is vague in terms of how long he is contracted for.  One imagines it will be a full season, maybe he’ll end up staying for longer, or perhaps he’s just arriving to perform the role Cillian Willis stepped into during the last World Cup; filling in for three months while Kearney, Fitzgerald, Madigan et al are off with Ireland.  Either way, nobody is especially keen to  make it clear.

If he is coming initially as RWC cover at outhalf / back three, it’s an ask to get him to match pitch in such a short time, even if the matches are against Treviso and the Dragons (who did the double over Leinster this year admittedly). If it’s for longer, it will be a huge ask for him to be even close to as good as he was. Matt O’Connor has lauded Nacewa’s hunger and sense of unfinished business, but that’s another stretch – if he was that hungry, why did he retire in the first place, and what unfinished business he could possibly have at a place where he won every team and individual gong going is something we can’t work out.

As for Leinster themselves, they have missed on-field leaders this year – the sky high standards that Leo Cullen and BOD held the team to have disintegrated, and disjointed messy performances have become the norm. This hasn’t been helped by the decline of the likes of Dorce, but it seems like only Jamie Heaslip is dragging Leinster to respectability (at best). It surely can’t hinder to have a guy with Nacewa’s experience and nous on the field. And if he is replacing Kirchner in the squad, it’s probably an upgrade; at least he’ll be willing to try a leg.

Still, with half of Australia and BNZ brandishing their passports and fluttering their eyelids at potential European suitors, the thought that a precious NIQ slot is going to be used up on what is essentially a luxury signing with pretty limited upside doesn’t smack of much ambition. It would be too Machiavellian to consider it a sop to a fan base unhappy with rank rugby and season ticket prices, but there aren’t many obvious on-pitch reasons to point to.

The best case scenario is probably a Nacewa that operates at 80% of previous peak, dragging those around him to those levels, and writing another chapter in the story. But the worst is that he fills the void left by Mils Muliaina and gets packed off without much fuss in 12 months time.

Mario Puzo, the creator of such philosophers as Michael Corleone, wrote “What is past is past. never go back. Not for excuses. Not for justification, not for happiness.”. Let’s hope those words don’t ring in Leinster and Nacewa’s ears in 2016.



  1. vshra

     /  April 30, 2015

    Future leinster backs coach, perhaps?

  2. andrew097

     /  April 30, 2015

    He might bring a little sense to the back play. Sadly missing at this stage but a strange signing.as you have said. As for the official speak, a bit of rubbish from sound bite O,Connor.
    Ps I liked Willis a fine player that injury and bad luck did in. We coud do with him now,

  3. garywealthifi

     /  April 30, 2015

    Juan Smith out from Feb 2011 to Feb 2013 with Achilles injury. Played once and retired Feb 13 and then signed for Toulon Sep 13. Let’s hope same amazing subsequent success follows Isa. The game break,while not typical, has top class precedent.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Also, (and something we meant to mention) Stefan Terblanche came out of semi-retirement for Ulster back in 2011 when Payne went down. He never shot the lights out, but was solid for the season.

      • zdm

         /  May 1, 2015

        Terblanche joined an Ulster team whose target for the season was to not be utterly shit (improve on 3rd from bottom in the league and to not become a second “development squad” for Ireland). I remember how almost bitter opposition fans were about us signing Pienaar because we had a clear recent history of being utter tripe. He had nothing to lose and was obviously a step up from the local alternatives.

        Nacewa joins a Leinster team whose target is to return from being good to being a European powerhouse. (just missing the Pro12 playoffs and being narrowly beaten in the European semi’s is probably something most clubs are aspiring to). He has everything to lose and it looks like a gamble to assume he is a better alternative than the (cheaper, non-NIQ) alternatives.

        • ORiordan

           /  May 1, 2015

          Errr… Terblanche joined Ulster in 11/12 and the previous season Ulster had reached the HEC QFs and finished 3rd in the Pro12.

  4. This smells an awful lot like a bandaid, and trying to recapture the essence of past glories or whatever. I’m sure the rumour-mill next season will be “CULLEN CONSIDERING COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT” or some such nonsense.

    It almost seems a little bit of a mini-Muliaina signing. “Hey, check out this unlikely but also potentially great on paper that may turn out to have little to no impact signing we made!”

    (Just throwing it out there, imagine Madigan didn’t make the RWC squad, and MOC STILL picks Isa at 10 ahead of him.)

  5. Yossarian

     /  April 30, 2015

    Massive Isa fan but this signing makes very little sense. It would be a shame to tarnish his legacy with some sub standard performances.
    Does it leave MOC with one less excuse? Sexton and Isa back so Leinsters squad is pretty much what it was two years ago(minus BOD and Leo)

    Not exactly progressive compared to Piutau and Saili signings.

    • Its a bit where are the snows of yesteryear. I thought it a real shame when he moved on, he was a loss to leinster this past 2 seasons, but now I’d have thought its a new empire needs building. Class act all the way though.

    • connachtexile

       /  April 30, 2015

      I have to agree with you. With the money Munster and Ulster have thrown around signing two kiwis in Piutau and Saili I was hoping for a big name signing from Leinster as well. So far MOC’S signings have being solid if unspectacular at best. Te’o seems good now but has spent most of this season learning his trade, Douglas seems knackered and I’m hoping a good rest and pre-season brings him up to his former level and now Isa who hasn’t played in two years. For a team with the ambitions and muscle of Leinster you’d hope for better.

  6. SportingBench

     /  April 30, 2015

    This just seems bizarre for many reasons, the primary one being that Leinster are marketing this as a triumph. Nacewa was a great player but that was two years ago and he hasn’t been injured and trying to come back or in training of any sort, he has had his feet up good and proper. Two years is a long time out of training.
    I’d be interested what the actual background is through as surely MOC and the people running Leister can’t view this as a proper signing? As WOC mentions details of the contract are sketchy in the press at the moment and I wonder if the reality is that Nacewa wanted to come back to rugby for whatever reason and Leinster are happy to help out as a favour to a legend. Therefore I wonder if he is on a loose arrangement to see how it goes and not on a lot of money. Anyone have any contract info?
    The confusion might just be the marketing people going overboard!

  7. It is a statement that neither Leinster nore the other provinces have a player of the standard of the 2015 model of Nacewa or is it? Are we not looking through the wrong end of the telescope? Why talk about Nacewa? Why not talk about the person who made this decision. We don’t know who that was. Like the girl in the teeney weeney bikini, they are afraid to come in the open. But we are in the professional era and the buck stops with O’Connor. This man is bankrupt of ideas, he is not up to the task, he blames others to cover up his inadequacies and he should do the honorable thing before he destroys the province and Irish rugby.

    • SportingBench

       /  April 30, 2015

      You’re definitely in the running for this week’s Leinster Lion award for boiling any discussion down to why every is MOC’s fault, always 🙂

      • osheaf01

         /  May 6, 2015

        LeinsterLion is preparing to head the new Leinster coaching team with Declan Kidney, so at least he has a rationale…

  8. “mental skills coach” for the Auckland Blues…

    I’d hope it’s a play-only contract then, no coaching. The Blues look neither coached nor skilful this year, though I will grant them the mental bit.

  9. Roundy

     /  April 30, 2015

    Could this be a marketing punt to increase flagging season ticket sales? Heard a rumour the sales are struggling around the 9k mark. With all the main players (and our other returning legend) planning on being away until the end of October (and the early part of the new year) people are wondering if shelling out for the ST is a good buy. Isa and who knows maybe even Stringer might tempt the waverers.

  10. andrew097

     /  April 30, 2015

    Depress ing talk about signings when we have enough talent to compete with anybody. MOCs signings and non signings have been strange. A broken down league player whose hamstring you could hear twanging in row Z when the pace was turned on. Rugby league second row to play centre. A coffee shop scrum coach and a second row that is invisible. Then three centres and a out half thrown to the winds of antipodian selection logic. Plus the resigning of two 35 year old scrum halfs who have been past their best for two seasons.
    Ben looks good when Leinster have the ball in hand but still no supporting runners for him. ( week four that there is no runners) and the scrum looked handy. So not all a disaster then except the same dopey game plan and slave to selection that has stuttered.

  11. “If he was that hungry, why did he retire in the first place”…

    If I remember correctly (and I’m certainly open to correction) it was for reasons outside of rugby. New family, wanted to be close to family etc… Had to “retire” because he was contracted to Leinster for a further season before he left and couldn’t (contractually) just head home and play for someone else.
    Two years out is a lot but the guy is only 32 so with a proper pre season and assuming he is still in better shape than you’re regular keyboard warrior (#TrevorHogan #Hoganloveshashtags) then he should be able to do a decent job of holding down the fort while the bulk of the Leinster squad are missing for the WC AND 6N… That’s a year with a lot of hand holding to be done!
    Delighted to have him back, even if it is in a mentor / hand holding capacity. The guy is class and his reading of the game might allow him to influence the guys around him from 10 or 12 (I’m giuessing) a bit more than a permanent injured 34 yo Mils playing at 15.

  12. zdm

     /  May 1, 2015

    What are the Ulster & Connacht equivalents of “ligind/ledge”??

    • Depends where in ulster you are, but in the interests of peace and reconciliation bbc ni reporters have to say Legen….derry/l’derry. Eg: thon new willie john mcbride will be as legenderry/l’derry as the old willie john mcbride.


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