Rob Kearney ready to meet Australia head on as they plot new direction
‘I thought during the Lions tour they were pretty poor’
Rob Kearney at Carton House yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Rob Kearney came among us yesterday and played the usual role. Engaging, honest, professional. Shame we interviewed him less than a fortnight ago.
This can happen. No need to fall into despair. Thankfully Kearney had the 80 minutes against Samoa to discuss, the bigger little brother’s two-try debut and the impending aerial threat of the Wallabies.
Izzy Folau is in town. There was a few other rambling comparisons to the 2009 game against the Springboks in a fog-drenched Croke Park (the link being that was the game against the nation that the Lions had just toured).
We’ll skip the chatter about Samoa and leave Dave Kearney to speak for himself another day. Jumping into Folau seems a good idea. Just not literally. Kearney, it was suggested indirectly, may struggle against the soaring League convert who ‘marked’ his way through a season of Aussie Rules before settling into life under the Michael Cheika regime in Sydney.
The Wallabies have changed utterly in the months since the Lions tour. Walloped by the All Blacks and the Springboks, at least they went down swinging. They destroyed Argentina. “I think they’ve changed a huge amount,” Kearney concurred.
“I thought during the Lions tour they were pretty poor. They’ve got a lot of new players in, they’ve got some fresh faces and just the style of their play is very different, too; there seems to be a little bit more direction.
‘Lot more direction’
“They know where they’re going. I think during that summer they were a little bit guilty of not really having a clue where they were going next and what they were doing at that moment in time. They do have a lot more direction.”
New coach Ewen McKenzie planted Folau at fullback and seems willing to suffer his occasional positional faux pas in order to highlight his phenomenal running threat.
Add the always solid, balanced Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins to the wings and you can almost hear Quade Cooper purring with delight.
Cooper’s bombs are like honey dripping down upon Cummins (6ft 2½ins), Ashley-Cooper (6ft) but particularly Folau (6ft 5ins). “I really rate Ashley-Cooper,” said Kearney.
“I think he’s a very good player. I think he’s probably been their one back over the last six or seven years who has consistently performed really well for them. He is equally good wherever he plays.
“I think Folau is their main man at the moment in terms of the hype around him. He is an awesome athlete, he really is. If I’m there at the back I’m really looking forward to playing against him.”
Looking forward to jumping against him? we mischievously inquire. “Yeah, yeah, and that’s one area probably where the two of us would view as being one of our main strengths. Yeah, exciting.”
Up they will go. Jonathan Sexton or Cooper or Will Genia will see to that.
Kearney never got the chance to scale skyscrapers during the summer. “I think it’s always a little bit of a dangerous one if you look to the past and try and get into your head, ‘I have to go out here and try and do something extra special to prove to the world why I should have been involved in the summer Tests’.
“Of course there is a little bit of that and you are coming up against the team who you felt you maybe could have done a good job against this summer, but certainly what happened on the Lions during the summer won’t be anywhere near my psyche.”
The contrast to 2009 and now is obvious. When given the opportunity to shine in South Africa, he took it and when the Springboks landed in north Dublin they were met by the combined ferocity of the best collective the northern hemisphere had to offer.
“I suppose it was a lot different that day, we were going a whole year unbeaten too so that was a massive thing for us. What happened in the summer won’t really affect us. It won’t be in our mental make-up this weekend.”
But something will have to be done to flick their mental attitude to high alert. This is the game that can salvage the messiest year of rugby both nations have experienced in quite some time.
“It’s a huge game,” Kearney agrees. “It’s probably the one game of all three that before the series was going to grab the most amount of attention.
“We had a good hit out last week, we needed it and it was good for us. But, there is no doubting that this is a huge game.”