Kearney feeling positive as a new era beckons under Joe Schmidt

Fullback confident Ireland can produce a better brand of rugby

Irish International Rob Kearney at Anglesea Road yesterday where he promoted the Guinness Plus mobile app in advance of Ireland’s autumn internationals. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Irish International Rob Kearney at Anglesea Road yesterday where he promoted the Guinness Plus mobile app in advance of Ireland’s autumn internationals. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 01:00

Not much beats watching an established athlete with something to prove.

Rob Kearney doesn’t feel he’s in that bracket. Of course he is, they all are.

Throw a blanket over Carton House for the next few weeks and let’s see what comes out.

We are talking Lions residue added to the last three years of the Declan Kidney era. A whole pile of winners who chronically underachieved after the flood of 2009. Plenty of them are ordering their final tipple in the last chance saloon.

Kearney’s situation is as good a place as any to start. Yesterday he was posing on Old Belvedere’s Anglesea road pitch to promote the Guinness Plus mobile app. Afterwards, he sat down and spoke about what comes next.

Before doing that it felt prudent to deal with the disappointment of the successful British and Irish Lions tour of Australia last summer.

Sure, Jamie Heaslip and Brian O’Driscoll suffered the ignominy of being cut from Warren Gatland’s 23-man squad for that third Test against the Wallabies but at least they got capped. Same goes for Paul O’Connell before his arm snapped.

Kearney, the soaring 2009 Lions fullback on the high veldt, never got off the ground.

“I was excited coming back from the summer. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t this air of anticipation over me, that I had to go out and try and prove myself and you know maybe show why, in my mind, I had to be out there on the field during the summer.”

So he’s fine.

We’ll leave it at that so. As soon as we ask about Leigh Halfpenny. Essentially, Kearney’s quest to reclaim the Lions number 15 jersey was stalled by a hamstring injury and Halfpenny kicking the lights out from day one on tour.

“It was frustrating because it was such a small injury. It wasn’t even a grade one hamstring tear. It just took longer, maybe two and a half weeks, to heal.

Five games
“I spoke to Gatland in Dubai and he sort of hinted a little bit, just get yourself right for the last four or five games, which may have thrown me a little bit.

“I always knew that I needed Johnny (Sexton) to kick really, really well for me to have an impact on that first 15. But you do keep hope right to the end that there could be injuries or poor performances off the tee, which was proving less and less likely seen as he (Halfpenny) couldn’t miss.”

So he compartmentalised it with a simple attitude coined by Forrest Gump. “Shit happens. I’ve very much forgotten about what went on in the summer.”

So, moving on to Ireland; a rugby nation in the doldrums with the last competitive game being a disastrous 22-15 defeat in Rome.

“If you are looking objectively on it, we are probably not in a great situation. From where we are inside the camp it is very different. There is a real freshness there, new excitement, we’ve got some key players back and fit so where we are perceived to be and where we actually feel are pretty far apart.

“In saying that we need to back it up with some wins.”

This neatly segues into public expectation now Joe Schmidt is Ireland coach.

“I’m not saying the country should expect three losses in autumn but I do think it will take time before we see the very best performance from this Irish team. It’s not going to happen immediately.”

That sounds reasonable. But considering New Zealand, the leaders in world rugby, and undefeated since being caught by England at Twickenham a year ago, are waiting at the end of the line, the Australia game on November 16th looks the definitive match of the series.

Samoa are ranked ahead of us, aren’t they? That’s going to be a tough game too. They’ve taken some big scalps.

“Australia hit rock bottom for that Lions tour. It was as poor as I have ever seen an Australia team play but they have got themselves back together now under Ewen McKenzie and put some good performances together.”

Kearney insists on a need to improve the brand of rugby produced under Kidney. Hence the eagerly anticipated rolling out of the Schmidt blueprint.

“If we can focus on seeing a complete performance from an Irish team, a better style and brand than was perhaps played over the last few years. I think that’s a positive. Keep getting positives and there will be a just reward somewhere down the line.”