No excuses as Kearney says Wallabies’ backline was key
‘There is lots of us to work on this week. We will bounce back, pick ourselves up’
Rob Kearney passes as he is tackled during the international Test match against between the Australian Wallabies on Saturday. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
This Irish squad, like so many others, strives to operate within a no-excuse culture. Last Saturday’s first defeat since the penultimate round of the 2017 Six Nations may have partly been due to the first Test line-up being a mix of those for whom, latterly, it’s been an unrelenting if continually rewarding campaign and those dusting off the cobwebs from recent inactivity.
For example, as with James Ryan, Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton, this was a first defeat of the season for Rob Kearney, in his case after 19 games. He has consistently set the highest of standards in his gilded season, particularly strong in his carrying and in the air. There was some good stuff here again too, although for a spell before half-time he seemed unsure of his bearings.
Maybe he was a little spooked by the advancing Isreal Folau (who could blame him?), but he misjudged Will Genia’s box kick in the preamble to Bernard Foley’s try, knocked on another and untypically opted for a “mark” when seemingly not entirely sure of his bearings before missing touch.
But there were no excuses.
“It was just concentration,” he explained. “I was just going through six or seven minutes where the intensity was off the charts and fatigue makes cowards of us all sometimes, and that was just a moment when concentration slipped on the back of a bit of fatigue.”
It’s doubtful that Kearney has had to cover so much of the backfield in any of his previous 19 games this season, although it was pretty much what he expected.
“The firepower they have in that backline, the way they use the ball, their strength in the air, I suppose when you have Folau you can do that. They varied their kicking game very well. They kicked off Beale a huge amount, other times off Foley, so it’s difficult, but when you have got two playmakers there, who are able to kick the ball, they worked us on some of those angle kicks a little bit. There is lots of us to work on this week. We will bounce back, pick ourselves up and go again.”
As well as individually in those aforementioned cases, now for the first time all season this Irish squad will have to do so.
“It shows how difficult it is to go 12 games unbeaten. We are back to zero now. We have got to go again, some guys won’t have experienced a test match like that, that is for sure. And you know, that is what these summer tours are about, playing these great teams and ultimately the World Cup is our goal and you have got to get the very best out of yourself when you play the best from around the world.”
Ireland conceded 21 turnovers to 12, Kearney admitting that they allowed David Pocock and Michael Hooper too much influence. “So we have to probably be a little more clinical than them at the breakdown, just play a little bit more pressure rugby, so that when we get down into their half, or their 22, we have got to start putting some scores away.”
In this Kearney acknowledged that Ireland also need to execute more sharply in attack.
“We had some opportunities to get outside them a few times, a couple of times in the first half, off first phase, we managed to get the width off first phase. Defensively, their first four seemed to be up and in, and they hit us as hard as they could. We will be glad to see a bit of footage and will be working considerably hard over the next few days. We will come up with some more set plays and a little bit of a game-plan to come up with more pictures than you saw today.”
The result was a huge let-down for the Green Army of ex-pats and others who’d travelled from afar, and must have made up around a third of the 46,273 crowd, which only made the players’ disappointment more acute.
“It is brilliant, it makes a huge difference to us. It is something we never take for granted, when you hear them cheering, and that full end behind the goal, all in green, they inspired us. But the Irish always travel so well and we always get massive support when we are away from home. That will be massive again next week and we hope there is even more Irish in Melbourne.”
That, apparently, will be the case, and Kearney believes Ireland can make it one-all.
“That is the plan.”