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Ireland on track for an epic final battle with All Blacks

Isa Nacewa

Published 26/09/2015

Roaring on: New Zealand are mentally stronger than they have ever been
Roaring on: New Zealand are mentally stronger than they have ever been

I don't know what I'll do if Ireland meet New Zealand in the World Cup final - and I think it will happen.

I'll be so torn. I'll have to get one of those half-and-half scarves. I'm half Kiwi and half Fijian. I was born and raised in New Zealand and I played for Fiji - for two minutes and 38 seconds! - but I feel such a big connection with Ireland, so I am 100 per cent behind the team.

I've spent over five years living in Ireland, and my three daughters were all born here - five-year-old twins and a three-year-old. But for me, when it comes to who you support, it's more about the people and the personalities.

There are so many Leinster guys in the team and I'm good mates with all of them. Joe Schmidt and I go back a long way, and I'm such a big fan.

I always used to get really nervous watching the All Blacks. Even though my father was Fijian - he came to New Zealand when he was 17 and met my mum at uni - I always felt New Zealand was home and I grew up supporting the All Blacks.

And even more so when it got to the stage where I had a lot of really good mates in the side.

Now I get nervous watching Ireland, because I'm so close to so many of the players.

I find it so hard to watch Ireland or the All Blacks. I would sometimes rather just hear the result and watch it back on a replay, so you don't get that awful feeling of pressure.

These days, with the three girls, I don't get to watch as much rugby as I'd like. I spend more time watching Tinkerbell and Dora the Explorer than rugby. It would be unheard of to get through an 80-minute game of rugby without the channel being changed.

So I often record games and watch them later, which I actually prefer anyway.

At the last World Cup, it was such a relief that New Zealand won on home soil. I played with and against a lot of the guys, and you could just see it meant so much to them and to the people back home - to New Zealand as a nation.

Watching them get beaten by France in the 2007 World Cup, I just felt so gutted for them.

I don't know if there's a comparison here - with New Zealand and rugby, the weight of the nation is on their shoulders.

I'll support Fiji if they're playing anyone other than New Zealand or Ireland. They're pretty much out of this World Cup now, and I just wish they'd had the same opportunity to be together in the build-up that the big teams get, because they have so much talent. You can only imagine how much damage they could do.

I certainly grew up proud of my Fijian heritage, but I always felt New Zealand was home. I've only been to Fiji four times.

I played for Fiji at the 2003 World Cup - one cap, and I came on in the 81st minute.

That was before I was a professional rugby player. I was 20, and I was a very late developer. I didn't make New Zealand schools teams, and the All Blacks wasn't even a consideration for me in 2003. I'd just made the Auckland NPC team, I wasn't playing Super Rugby, I was still at uni.

I played maybe seven games for Auckland that year. One of those was the NPC final, and I got a phone call that night, saying, 'do you want to go to the World Cup next week?', after a player got injured. And I said 'yeah, great, I get to go to a World Cup'.

I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't played that game. I probably wouldn't be here now! They tightened the rules, you couldn't switch after you had played for one country.

But I don't get caught up in the regrets. You just get on with it. I never watch the All Blacks and think, 'that could have been me out there'.

If I hadn't played for Fiji, I would have qualified for Ireland after three years living here in 2011. And that was probably a harder thing for me to miss out on - it maybe would have been more realistic.

But just being in Ireland while the players have had all that success has been brilliant. And there could be more success on the way.

In the opener, Canada weren't great, but take nothing away from Ireland, they were super sharp. Mentally, and skill-wise, they were on the mark.

With Joe, when you're playing a team you're expected to beat easily, it's not about the win, it's about the execution. You can win by 50 points and Joe will find areas he wants to improve. That will be the case this week. He wouldn't be patting guys on the back.

The All Blacks look really battle-hardened. They got past a really tough Argentina team. They have a different mentality now compared to four years ago.

Mentally, they are at a completely different level. The pressure from the nation is still there, but the pressure from within is even higher. Watch them get better and better each week. These guys are at a whole new level.

I'm not a betting man, but I reckon they will get to the decider with ease.

And they're going to meet Ireland in the final - I'm nervous already!

Belfast Telegraph

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