Leinster showed huge amount of character to get back in the game, says Kearney
Fullback believes fitness got them through final ‘physical’ minutes
Leinster’s Rob Kearney kicks a drop goal during the Heineken Cup match against Castres at Stade Pierre Antoine yesterday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Even the Leinster players were shaking their heads in slight disbelief at what had just happened. Nonetheless, emerging from a wild, whacky and enthralling game with a victory from 14 points down – and leaving the Castres players visibly upset over losing their year-long unbeaten home record – ensured the value of the win cannot be underestimated.
“It’s important, it’s of huge importance,” said a relieved Rob Kearney. “You know, 14 points down after a poor start - that’s when winning big trophies as a team stands to you. You have a lot of faith and confidence that you will get opportunities to get back into it.”
“We showed a huge amount of character and probably the best phases of play we showed was in the period just before half-time,” added Kearney in reference to Jimmy Gopperth’s second try off a multi-phase attack well into first-half over-time. “We built a lot of phases and you could see that they were tiring and wanted to get to half-time. We saw that and we pounced on that a little bit too. It was a bit of a turning point for us, to get that score before the half.”
Indeed, to engineer three tries and 29 points while living off scrums was some effort, given some of their attack play was too lateral and lacked variety, while and typical of the match and the Leinster performance, their defending was often porous yet brilliantly defiant in limiting Castres to just one more academic try on the final whistle.
“Their 12 and 13 were strong, they were good ball carriers. Kirkpatrick, when he came on, made a bit of a difference too with his show-and-go. They’re a good team, that 10, 12, 13 axis was really strong and we had a bit of a chop emphasis and they’re a good off-loading team and they got a few off-loads away but our scramble was really good.”
‘All about recovery’
“It was really frantic too. It didn’t really need to be that frantic, we probably contributed to that a little bit. That second 40 was physical, it was really frantic. We just need to get our head in the game really quickly because five days isn’t a lot of time. We’ll be sore until Tuesday, we’re not going to be on the pitch much, it will all be about recovery.”
Encouragingly though, sealing the game with their third try while reduced to 14 men for the final 10 minutes also said much for their fitness levels. “Leinster always through the years, and this year, we’re not the biggest team, we’re not the strongest team in Europe but we’ll always back our fitness and intensity to beat big teams, especially the French. That’s what we bank on at times.”
The bench too had a significant affect. “Big impact,” agreed Kearney. “We have huge depth there in the squad now and that’s important. Gone are the days where you could play 80 minutes with just 15 guys, they did their bit when they came on.”
Grinning sheepishly, he described his drop goal as “ugly”, adding: “In your career you will get some and not others but the good thing about a drop goal is that you can get the ball back from the 22 restart and especially when they are facing a breeze and they can’t kick it too far back. You are almost guaranteed possession back in their half so it’s a shot to nothing and sometimes it comes off.”
It was, he readily repeated, a frantic affair. “It was. Their breakdown work was really good in the first-half and we were probably a bit slow in getting there. It was quick. It was a frantic pace and both teams had a bit of a chop emphasis which meant that guys were getting to the deck quicker which makes it easier to get some pilfers which means there was a lot of turnovers.
“It’s going to take it out of us but we can’t get sucked in to whinging about a five-day turnaround. We have got to go and attack them. Northampton thankfully didn’t get the bonus point but they did get a big win. There is still a lot for us to do on Friday.”
The Ospreys do have a proven fondness for pooping parties at the RDS. “Unfortunately so but history tells us that they have done that and they will continue to do that so we know exactly what to expect because they are the one team around that loves the RDS.”