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Retiring Nacewa will be considered one of Leinster's finest: Cullen

 

By Robert Jones

Captain Isa Nacewa will retire at the end of the season, Leinster have confirmed.

The 35-year-old utility back will bid to go out on a high by leading Leinster to their fourth European title, with the Champions Cup final against Racing 92 set for May 12.

The Kiwi flyer will also hunt a Guinness PRO14 title to add to his PRO12 winner's medal in attempting to round off a highly-decorated career in style.

Hooker Richardt Strauss will also retire this summer, with the 17-cap Ireland front-rower bowing out after eight years with the province.

"It is hard to articulate the impact that both Isa and Richardt have had on this club since their arrival," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

"Warriors on the pitch and wonderful men off it, they are, in my opinion, two of the best players to have ever worn the blue jersey. Their impact on this group of players will be felt for years to come."

Nacewa joined Leinster from the Blues in 2008, helping the province claim their three Heineken Cup triumphs.

The Auckland-born star retired in 2013 and joined the Blues as a mental coach, only to reverse that decision and rejoin Leinster as a player in 2015.

Four other players will leave the province this term and all six were honoured at the Leinster awards ball last night.

Lions and Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip will head that cast list having been forced into retirement earlier in the campaign through a back injury.

Jordi Murphy will join Ulster in the summer, while Cathal Marsh and Peadar Timmins will also leave Leinster at the end of the season.

Cullen insisted it was important to mark the occasion for all those leaving, despite Leinster's clear focus still remaining on chasing silverware.

"It's a difficult one because obviously you don't want to get distracted with so much rugby still left to be played," said Cullen.

"But it is important that we formally recognise the impact that these six players have had on the club.

"Once that is done, I know they will want everyone to focus on finishing the season as strongly as possible.

"There is no better way of finishing out the season or your time at the club than that."

Meanwhile, Champions Cup finalists Leinster and Racing 92 dominate the five-strong shortlist for the 2018 European Player of the Year award.

Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong and Scott Fardy complete the representation from Leinster, who are favourites to win the showpiece in Bilbao on May 12.

Racing scrum-half Maxime Machenaud and lock Leone Nakarawa are the other two players in contention to claim an award that is currently held by Owen Farrell of Saracens and is decided by a public vote.

• South Africa great Bryan Habana is to retire at the end of the season after being unable to force his way back into the Toulon team.

Habana underwent surgery to repair a long-standing knee injury last year but since recovering has found his path back into the starting XV blocked by the likes of Chris Ashton and Josua Tuisova.

The 34-year-old will retire as the Springboks' leading try-scorer with 67 and three short of Victor Matfield's record of 127 for caps won by a South African.

"The inevitable moment has come knocking on my door and I've welcomed it in for a drink," he said on Instagram.

"It's been more than a year of hoping, trying, pushing and willing to get back on the field for one last time, to taste the sweet victory or encounter that gut-wrenching despair.

"To hear the roar of the crowd or grab the ball out of the air. To make that last bone crunching tackle or score that last game winning try. But it's unfortunately just not to be.

"I would have liked my career to have ended differently, but sometimes things don't turn out quite the way we hope for. So at the end of this season, it's time to say goodbye and thank you to the game I so dearly love."

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