By Brendan O’Brien
Isa Nacewa has warned that Leinster will have to produce a performance superior to anything they have managed so far this season if they are to overcome Racing 92 in Saturday’s Champions Cup final here in Bilbao.
That’s quite a statement.
Leinster have been sensational this campaign, swatting aside the very best club sides the continent has to offer and they will become only the second team to claim the European Cup on the back of an unbeaten nine-game run of they come good one more time.
The current French and English league leaders have already been ticked off.
So too the leading side in Conference A of the PRO14 and the same competition’s reigning champions. Oh, and the reigning Champions Cup kingpins as well.
Leo Cullen’s side were clinical in putting paid to Montpellier, Glasgow and Exeter Chiefs in the pool stages.
They then dispatched Saracens with some unexpected ease in the last eight and simply blew away a very, very good Scarlets side in the semi-final last month.
“We talked before Scarlets and Saracens about taking a step and we did that,” said Nacewa who was sinbinned in the Champions Cup semi-final loss to Clermont Auvergne last season.
“You learn a lot about yourself. It was about building on that, the last 12 months. We know we have to go to another level, we have to against such a world-class team.
“We've been building nicely, taking it one game at a time.”
Leinster's matchday 23 is as expected with Luke McGrath, who was injured for the Scarlets game, starting at scrum-half but, with some lingering doubts as to his ability to make the 80 minutes, he will be backed up by the Kiwi nine Jamison Gibson-Park off the bench.
With EU laws limiting Leinster to just three players from New Zealand and Australia, and the Australian Scott Fardy undroppable in the pack, that all means that the ex-New Zealand Maori winger James Lowe will play no part in the showpiece decider.
“There is a lot of different factors,” Cullen explained.
“Scott has come in and done well, he’s been a really good addition to the forwards.
“He is a good leader in the group. It’s not an easy decision.
“As we have said a number of times during the course of the season, it adds a little bit of complication but we felt those two guys have gone well and we think they will do a good job for us tomorrow.”
And the conversation with Lowe earlier this week?
“It’s not just James. There’s a whole host of players that we had difficult conversations with this week.
“We have used 37 players in the eight games so far and in our domestic competition, the PRO14, we have used 55 players.
“So, it takes a huge amount to get to this stage.
“But the players have fought hard for each other this year. With that competitive environment there is always going to be people who miss out.
“We are actually in another competition as well, the British and Irish Cup. They play the final over in Ealing.
“So it has been a really competitive group this year and that is what we will need again tomorrow.”