Leinster have admitted to some surprise at the suggestion from Welsh legend Shane Williams that Isa Nacewa is a weak link who can be exposed defensively by the Scarlets in today’s Champions Cup semi-final.
Williams has deep respect for a man against whom he played many times but he highlighted the Kiwi’s age – he is 36 this summer – as reason for focusing on him.
“Yeah, that is surprising to hear,” Leo Cullen said rather abruptly.
Nacewa, sitting in the same room at the time as he waited to speak to the media, subsequently chose to “pass” when Williams’ observations were put to him but others have noted his age this week.
Brian O’Driscoll has observed that a shift in the centre would suit the veteran more than the wing where the chances of him being exposed would be greater. The player himself says he feels fresh as a daisy.
“I feel great, even in the back end of the season,” he claimed. “In eight seasons with Leinster, this is the least amount of rugby I’ve played. There’s been niggling injuries but the S&C and medical staff are great, probably managed me better this year than any other, but it doesn’t matter what number I’m wearing out there.”
Nacewa slots into the shirt occupied by James Lowe against Saracens in the quarter-final, the younger New Zealander losing out due to the limitations on Antipodeans and the need to start Jamison Gibson-Park at nine what with Luke McGrath’s failure to declare himself fit.
Scott Fardy, the ex-Wallaby, was always a certainty to play regardless.
The bad news regarding McGrath had been flagged, so too the fact that Sean O’Brien was yesterday diverted back to the operating theatre with his recent shoulder problems, but Jack Conan’s return to the bench from injury is a boost to a callow if talented reserve list.
The Scarlets have engaged in the odd tweak themselves. Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Patchell, who started at 15 and 10 respectively in the quarter-final defeat of La Rochelle, move to 14 and full-back with Dan Jones promoted to the out-half berth.
Injuries in the back three – to Paul Asquith, Johnny McNicholl and Tom Prydie – have played a hand there but Scarlets are unchanged in midfield, at scrum-half and in the pack from where Tadhg Beirne will again face his home province.
The visitors show four changes to the side that undid Leinster in the RDS in the Guinness PRO12 semi-final last year.
The Irish province has ten different faces from that day, seven of which are in the pack, but they look better for most of them.
It has all the ingredients for a classic: two sides on an upward curve, riddled with Test talent, wedded to attacking rugby and with strong packs. And all this to unfold before 50,000 souls on a spring day that is expected to be bright and dry.
More than likely a 3-0 grueller, then.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win,” said Nacewa. “Exeter away (in December), wasn’t a pretty, flash game but we did what we had to do to win it. The forwards rolled up their sleeves and did the hard work so I’ll take a 3-0 win every day of the week.”
It shouldn’t come to that. Leinster by a nose.
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