WHEN ROB KEARNEY returned home from the Lions tour to South Africa in 2009, there was a strong case to make that he was the best fullback in the world.
While his performances for Ireland, winning the Grand Slam, and Lions were stellar, a player with one Fijian cap was keeping him out of the starting line-up at Leinster.
It was hard to argue with then-coach Michael Cheika’s decision – Nacewa was in the form of his life and had started at 15 in the province’s Heineken Cup Final win over Leicester that May.
The playing time at fullback was shared between the duo that season and Nacewa started the 2011 Heineken Cup win over Northampton in that position as Kearney was injured.
Ever since the World Cup of 2011, Kearney, when available for selection, has invariably started at 15. Nacewa has been needed elsewhere and has filled in, with superb returns, across the backline.
“I learned a huge amount from him,” told TheScore.ie following the announcement that Nacewa would be retiring at the end of the season.
“The number one thing that I loved from Isa was his consistency. He very rarely had poor games and he would make the right decision 99 times out of 100.”
Kearney and Nacewa celebrate the 2012 Heineken Cup win over Ulster. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Nacewa played 116 times for Leinster since his signing, by Cheika, from Auckland Blues in the summer of 2008.
Kearney revealed that there had been whispers about Nacewa’s future at the province but insisted that the players were not sure until recently of his intentions to return to New Zealand.
“As coaches and players, he is exactly the type of player you look for,” said the Irish fullback. “They limit their errors. He’s a guy who did that in positions across the field.” He added:
If you’re looking to build strong teams and successful teams, you need really good blokes around. He was one of those guys; a really good fella. Always a team man, doing stuff for the benefit of the team.
“He’ll be missed both on and off the field, massively.”
Leinster, Kearney confirmed, are also set to miss his presence, and that of other Irish internationals, this weekend ahead of a massive Pro12 game against Glasgow Warriors.
He is hoping to return for the home game against Ulster on 30 March and has set his sights on Pro12 and Amlin Challenge Cup winners’ medals.
Kearney unfurls a drive at the GUI Golf Academy in Maynooth.
*Rob Kearney was speaking today as the ambassador for the Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Skills Challenge 2013. For more on the event, now in its second year, visit www.learntogolf.ie