Dave Kearney ready for his close-up
Ireland wing hoping to roam free in the wide channels at the Aviva stadium on Saturday
Dave Kearney is tackled by Billy Twelvetrees as Danny Care (left) looks on during the Six Nations clash against England. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
In the week of the Oscars perhaps there’s a bit of scope to borrow an analogy or two from the film world in pouring over the rushes, performance wise, for Ireland’s left wing Dave Kearney in the Six Nations Championship to date.
Although he’s been part of the main feature, his role has been a series of cameos, albeit primarily hugely positive ones, that have whetted the appetite for an afternoon when he takes a more central role. That could come as early as Saturday when Italy visit the Aviva Stadium.
The younger of the Kearney brothers has shown flashes of his excellent footwork, balance and elusiveness in possession on a modicum of opportunity. There’s no doubting his talent or aptitude for Test rugby, the only cavil that he hasn’t been given enough ball.
Ireland have read from an abbreviated playbook, coach Joe Schmidt’s tactical excellence facilitating comprehensive victories over Scotland and Wales. The flawed execution at times against England, coupled with the aggression and organisation of their hosts at Twickenham, denied Ireland’s wings much latitude in attack.
Kearney admitted: “The back three in general haven’t got a whole amount of ball to work off, especially out wide and when we are in a bit of space so it has all been pretty tight in the space we have had to work in.
“But, yeah, I have been pretty happy on a personal level with the distances covered and yards made. I just think that if we can get a bit more ball wide, where the back three players will have a bit more space to work with, it would be good.”
There was a fleeting moment when Ireland’s left wing thought he had escaped the clutches of the home side only for England secondrow Joe Launchbury to blindside Kearney with an ankle tap.
“No, I didn’t see him at all. I was just focusing on beating [Mike] Brown on the inside and then, yeah, fair play to him [Launchbury], he made a big long dive and a long arm to get the tap tackle.
“I thought with Brown coming across, I had him flat-footed. It would have been pretty difficult for him to get back to me. I probably wouldn’t have finished the try myself as there was a good few backrowers coming back. I probably would have looked to play somebody in on the inside.”
It’s a moot point now as was a query about Ireland’s defence for Danny Care’s try. Kearney explained: “At the time I thought Brown had beaten Rob [Kearney] on the outside so if that was the case I had to step in on Brown. I went in for Brown and at that stage it was probably too late to go back out for [Danny] Care.
“That’s just the way things go. I think Rob at the time thought he wasn’t going to get to him so I then had step in and Care got the try. It’s always very difficult for a winger to try and defend those things.
“We did a good bit of attack last week in Belfast [training camp, last week] and the start of this week has been pretty much defence orientated. On a whole, one or two small things were the difference in the England game. Our hustle wasn’t what we are used to or expect from ourselves so we have worked on that a lot over the last couple of days.”
It’s time to look forward. In times past Italy were pretty easy to pigeon-hole: nullify the impact of their set-piece and maul and thereafter the attacking gambits were pretty rudimentary. That’s changed under their French coach Jacques Brunel. There is a much better balance to the way the Italians orientate their patterns and they carry a great deal more potency behind the scrum.
Kearney agreed: “Maybe back in the day they would have been more forward-orientated but now they have some real good skilful players, guys with a lot of pace which we are going to be wary of; I think [Luke] McLean at fullback, he’s a really skilful player.
“He likes to get involved at first receiver, likes to have a go and has got good pace, like the wingers. We definitely know the threat the backs pose. It is something we have looked at a lot over the last week.”
He’s quick to point out that Ireland have prioritised the game they want to impose on the visitors.
“We still want to throw the ball around out wide and try and score tries, that’s our main focus. We created a few opportunities but weren’t clinical enough to finish them. It is something that we are working on.”
Kearney has managed to temper frustration. “It is just the way games go. In my first cap against Samoa there was loads of space and gaps opened up. I think it just goes to show what the Six Nations competition is like. Defences are getting better and better. There is little ball making it wide and I think that has been the same for the other teams.”
He’d like to see that trend change on Saturday.