Ireland camp is best in my time as manager, says Mick Kearney

Squad prepare for second All Black clash with no new injury worries after Canada win

Ireland team manager Mick Kearney. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland team manager Mick Kearney. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

This November series is Mick Kearney’s last stint as Irish manager. Having taken over from Paul McNaughton in January 2012, he has worked alongside Declan Kidney, Les Kiss and Joe Schmidt in five Six Nations, four summer tours to New Zealand, the Americas, Argentina and South Africa, as well as a World Cup and four autumnal Test windows, and places this as the best he has experienced of those 14 campaigns.

 “I think the match against Canada and awarding eight new caps was fantastic,” he said on Monday in one of his final media briefings at the squad’s Carton House base. “There is a lot of competition among the squad, and there’s a lot of youth among the squad. I think the average age of the backline on Saturday was about 24.

 “To see new guys come in, I think it adds energy to the group, as much as anything else. It’s really good to see competition for places. I’d say at the moment, in the five years that I’ve been involved, it’s probably the best I’ve seen.”

 Kearney also confirmed that the Ireland squad suffered “no fresh injuries to report” following Saturday’s 52-10 win over Canada at the Aviva Stadium. “It was quite a physical encounter so a number of players are a little bit sore this morning. So they’ll be managed appropriately during the week, with their training load managed today. A squad of 38 players will prepare for the last two games of the Guinness Series. Dave Kilcoyne and Darren Sweetman have returned to Munster this week.” 

Strengthened

Following on from Ultan Dillane’s man of the match on his first Test start, the Ireland manager also confirmed that the competition in the secondrow has been further strengthened by Iain Henderson’s return to full training, thus putting him in the frame for selection against the All Blacks on Saturday.

 Kearney also confirmed that Johnny Sexton “trained fully last week and trained fully this week, so there’s absolutely no doubt about Johnny at all.” The four additions, in effect, to the original 34-man squad now missing the injured Jordi Murphy, are Niyi Adeolokun, Tiernan O’Halloran, Jack O’Donoghue and Dan Leavy.

 Kearney had only returned to the Carton House about half an hour before the briefing after attending the World Rugby annual awards banquet in London on Sunday night, which underlined the scale of Ireland’s win over New Zealand as the best one-off victory he has witnessed in his five years as manager.

 “Beauden Barrett was a very deserving winner of the player of the year award, Steve Hansen obviously won coach of the year and the All Blacks won team of the year, so they picked up the three main awards. Given the run [of 18 wins before Chicago], given the form they’ve shown all year, all three awards were very fully deserved.”

Amongst the award winners was Jamie Heaslip, for finishing off what was voted as the try of the year in last season’s Six Nations against Italy when he completed the length-of-the-pitch, 10-man move featuring nine passes and eight players – Conor Murray, Sexton, Fergus McFadden, Sexton again, Simon Zebo, Jared Payne, Sexton again, Andrew Trimble, McFadden again, and finally Heaslip.

Collective

“I feel a bit stupid taking credit for it,” said Heaslip. “All I did was run up the field and all the other lads with Zebo [making] the offload and Johnny and Jared Payne as well. I think it’s a great try because it’s a collective, it’s all about the team and it must have gone through, I don’t know, eight, nine, 10 different pairs of hands, and it was nice to get on the end of it.

 “And the reason I was there was because I had Joe Schmidt screaming in my head about running upfield and not being left behind. So it was probably a try scored out of fear on my behalf, to be honest,” said Heaslip, laughing.

 Heaslip was also on the five-man shortlist for world player of the year – alongside England trio Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje – but it was the gifted 25-year-old Barrett who became the fifth successive All Black to receive the award, following in the footsteps of Dan Carter (2012 and 2015), Kieran Read (2013) and Brodie Retallick (2014).

 Meanwhile, Brian O’Driscoll was one of a dozen players inducted into World Rugby’s hall of fame, along with Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jeremy Guscott, Shane Williams and others.

 World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont also confirmed that the vexed three-year residency rule was being reviewed, with a decision as to whether there will be any changes to take about 12 months.

 This follows former Argentina scrumhalf Augustín Pichot voicing his deep concerns about the rule earlier this year when elected World Rugby vice-chairman.

Passion

“We are constantly reviewing all our laws and this is one we are looking at,” said Beaumont. “My colleague [Pichot] does have a passion about it. It’s something we need to keep looking at as there are different eligibility rules for the Olympics and other sports.

“We consult the unions, we make the recommendations, but they decide. We’ll put a group together within World Rugby, elected members and external too, as we don’t want to be too insular. It will be discussed during executive meeting on Wednesday and might go to council after that discussion. All 126 unions will be consulted, but if there is going to be any change it would be in 12 months or so.”

 World Rugby’s CEO Brett Gosper said there had not been much appetite to change the residency rule to five years when the issue was raised 18 months ago.

“This time the approach will be more holistic,” he said. “We’ll be looking at eligibility, residency, the grandparent rule, player movement, the Olympics etc. We might end up in the same place but we may not.”

Beaumont said the other key issue he was desperately trying to address, with limited success, was settling on a unified world calendar for the sport.

FULL LIST OF WORLD RUGBY AWARDS WINNERS

World Rugby Men’s Player of the Year – Beauden Barrett, New Zealand

World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year – Sarah Hunter, England

World Rugby Team of the Year – New Zealand

World Rugby Coach of the Year – Steve Hansen, New Zealand

World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year – Maro Itoje, England

World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year in association with HSBC – Seabelo Senatla, South Africa 

World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year in association with HSBC – Charlotte Caslick, Australia

World Rugby Referee Award – Alhambra Nievas, Spain, and Rasta Rasivhenge, South Africa

Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service – Syd Millar

Award for Character – Rugby Opens Borders, Austrian Rugby Union

IRPA Special Merit Award – Jean de Villiers, South Africa

IRPA Try of the Year – Jamie Heaslip, Ireland

Special recognition of Olympic Games success – Australia’s women and Fiji’s men

The full list of new hall of fame inductees (with induction number and country) is:

Brian O’Driscoll (121, Ireland), Shane Williams (122, Wales), Jeremy Guscott (123, England), Lawrence Dallaglio (124, England), Heather Moyse (125, Canada), John Dawes (126, Wales), GPS Macpherson (127, Scotland), Arthur Gould (128, Wales), Jonny Wilkinson (129, England), Daniel Carroll (130, Australia and USA), Daisuke Ohata (131, Japan) and Maggie Alphonsi (132, England).

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