Saturday’s clash between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium will mark 175 days since these sides last played a competitive game of rugby.
And Leinster Rugby legend Isa Nacewa believes this prolonged period of inactivity will have a big impact on Johnny Sexton.
As much as the lack of rugby has been difficult for players, coaches and supporters, there is a benefit in that it allows players time to get on top of injuries, develop their skills and undergo some strength and conditioning work which they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do so before.
Sexton has made no secret of his desire to play well into his late 30s. The 35-year-old, like many players, rarely get such an ideal opportunity to work on their bodies or develop areas of their game without having a match to prepare for.
Nacewa believes this could be “huge” for Sexton’s career.
“Johnny Sexton has been a big catalyst” – Nacewa
“You look at the positives out of this lockdown and there would be so many guys out there that this would have benefited massively,” Guinness ambassador Nacewa said.
“Guys have written sabbaticals into their contracts and this is an unofficial sabbatical for guys to actually get their body right, get over niggles, get on top of some of the S&C where you just don’t get those windows during a season.
“This would have been huge for Johnny’s body. Maybe he’ll play on until he’s 42, I don’t know, but even mentally I’ve heard such good things from the guys about how Johnny had led off the field through lockdown and keeping guys engaged, keeping the Leinster squad engaged.
“He’s always looking at ways to get better. He’s always looking at ways for the team to get better tactically also. I know there was a lot going on in the background to make use of this time.”
“175 days without rugby, you’d be pretty gutted if you came back in and thought you had wasted time and missed the jump on actually trying to get better. I know Johnny has been a big catalyst for the Leinster guys and leading off the field. Just keeping those Leinster standards super high so they come back and don’t miss a beat. He’s the catalyst and heartbeat behind that for Leinster.”
As Nacewa alludes to, he is still in close contact with the players and management despite now being settled in Auckland after his retirement two years ago.
The players will no doubt be well aware of the importance of facing Munster. Although the eastern province have dominated their southern rivals in recent years, Nacewa maintains that in the players’ eyes, this is the biggest game of the season.
“It’s huge (Leinster v Munster), it’s the biggest week, no matter what. It is just a different buzz. It’s a different buzz to European weeks, quarter-final, semi-final. No matter what anyone writes about it in the media or any commentary you hear around it, it’s still the biggest game of the year and that’s hands down the beauty of the rivalry, the history around it, the tribal warfare around it.
“It’s a week within the season that you just want to get right, so there is no better game, in my eyes, to come back to rugby. There’s no second chance, no warm-up, it’s been 175 days with no rugby and then whammy, straight into a Munster match at the Aviva.
“It’s phenomenal and from a players’ point of view, what better way to do it than face Munster first up.”
As Nacewa speaks to the media from his home in New Zealand, there is picture on his wall of that iconic shot of 82,000 Munster and Leinster supporters packed into Croke Park for that historic Heineken Cup semi-final in 2009.
“It’s the game I love the most”
Although there won’t be more than 200 people, including the players, in the stadium this Saturday, Nacewa is excited as ever and he will be getting up early with his daughters to watch the game.
“I can’t wait. I can’t wait. My girls already have their Leinster jerseys ironed and ready. I’ll be having an early Guinness on Sunday morning at 6.35 I think it will be. I can’t wait. It’s the game I love the most, the Leinster-Munster match, above all else. I just can’t wait.
“There’s no better game to have than a Leinster-Munster at the Aviva. It will be nice to enjoy a Guinness on a Sunday morning over the match. I won’t feel guilty about it at all. So it will be pretty cool. I can’t wait.”
Leinster face Munster in the Guinness PRO14 this Saturday at 7.35pm.
To celebrate rugby’s return and create the ultimate at home rugby occasion, Guinness has teamed up with former Leinster rugby player Isa Nacewa, and former Munster player Ronan O’Gara to reveal limited edition Guinness x BuJo Home Kits.
To purchase a limited-edition Guinness x BuJo Home Kit and celebrate the return of Irish rugby people can visit https://shop.bujo.ie/bujo-