Rob Kearney to keep on playing after Rugby World Cup
Ahead of weekend clash against Bath, fullback says he wants new contract
Rob Kearney speaks at Leinster rugby press conference in UCD on December 3rd Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
November has been kind to Rob Kearney. It put the Irish fullback in a place he wanted to be, where he could make a decision unmuddied by injury or doubt. But first November had to come and go.
Joe Schmidt turned to him for the game against the All Blacks, in hearts and minds the gold standard match. With Jordan Larmour turning on the gas against Italy and Argentina and Will Addison given the shirt for the USA, the month might have turned to December with a different complexion. It didn’t.
But Kearney wants more. He will be 33 after the World Cup in Japan, when his current contract expires. Then he is going to continue playing on. Where? Who knows? He doesn’t.
“I wanted to leave it [the decision] until after November just before I had any thoughts on it,” he says. “I’ve made the decision now that I’m going to play after the World Cup, in some capacity. So, I’m still no further down the road as to where.
“It wasn’t in doubt,” he adds. “But I just didn’t want to put myself under too much pressure . . . just to see how the body was first. I always find that where I’m at physically is determined by where I am mentally.
“When my body is good and I feel fresh and we’re winning it’s very hard not to really enjoy what you’re enjoying and keep wanting for more. It’s something [contract after 2019] that I need to start the process in the next month or so.”
A natural cycle
The world has kind of turned for Kearney. Things are coming back around as they do. World Cups do that, bring natural cycles of churn.
In Bath this weekend, he faces Girvan Dempsey. It was the former fullback who showed him a pathway at Leinster. Kearney arrived in 2005 as a winger but wanted to play at 15. Dempsey, he says, was generous.
“I always think that it was a very selfless act from him to take the new young up-and-coming kid at the time,” he says. “I texted him a good bit during November and we still have a very good relationship.”
Kearney has also seen Ireland beat the All Blacks for a second time. Even that was less of a fanfare. It wasn’t a new experience for him, more a consolidation of Ireland’s rightful place.
He has also turned to face New Zealand in a different way. More muted celebrations than Chicago two years ago, Ireland, he suggests, are knowing how to belong.
“It definitely has been a little less excitable, which is probably a good thing. It was a little bit disjointed because there was a group of us who didn’t go back into camp for that USA week,” he says.
“In Chicago it was much more excitable because it was the first win ever. We had spoken for so many years about the fact that we could beat the All Blacks but until you do you never 100 per cent believe it.
“What was great about it this time was that, on the week of the All Blacks game, there was probably a lot of us who expected to win.”
Schmidt’s departure after Japan, he says, won’t have an impact on the team, Andy Farrell’s elevation a natural phenomenon. Schmidt is a no-surprises type of coach.
“They obviously had this contingency plan in the background for the last six months or so,” he says, adding that Farrell’s defensive system is more difficult to play, highly effective and different to the one in Leinster.
“He [Farrell] changed our system dramatically when he first came in. It’s a difficult role to play. I rely on my wingers heavily in that system. The great thing about him is he’s just very black and white.
“I suppose here [at Leinster], we’re more of a 13-2 so 13 players in the frontline and two in the backfield, whereas in Ireland we’re not a full 14-1 but you expect your wingers to play a little bit up higher but also have the ability to move back.
“Here we try to fill the field a little bit more but at international level . . . the backfield is a lot tougher to fill than at provincial level.”
It’s not hard to see what Schmidt likes. Certainty, control and physically uncompromising, Kearney’s whole mien, rising to a high ball or talking in a room, says trust me. Schmidt does just that.
The two didn’t talk about the coach’s departure after the World Cup as Kearney had left Irish camp with others before the final November game. He was back with Leinster, comfortable that his body had told his mind, or vice versa, that the natural pause of a Rugby World Cup need not be an end.