Kearney relieved to escape unscathed
Rob Kearney skips past the tackle of Scotland's Alasdair Strokosh during Ireland's 10-6 defeat at Murrayfield on Saturday. The Leinster back played 80 minutes after being sidelined since November. - (Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Rugby: There were few positives to take from Ireland's 10-6 defeat to Scotland on Saturday but the return of Rob Kearney from a serious knee injury was certainly one of them, as was game time for fellow long-term absentees Tomás O'Leary and Jerry Flannery.
Kearney played his first match since sustaining cartilage and ligament damage against New Zealand last November, completing the full 80 minutes unscathed. The Lions fullback put in a solid display that was welcomed by a management team that had little else to celebrate on a chilly afternoon at Murrayfield.
Kearney admited afterwards the occasion had been playing on his mind but was satisfied with the way it unfolded.
"It's a huge relief to be playing again. I'd been nervous all week - I don't usually get nerves beforehand," said Kearney. "I came across some big obstacles. The result wasn't what we wanted but from a personal perspective it was good to get through it.
"I felt really good at times, but was blowing at other times. All in all I was happy and felt pretty comfortable. I've come back from injury before where you try to do something magical, but my main focus was to do the basics right and make as few errors as possible.
"I was pleased with the way it went, but if I'd had a shocker I wasn't going to judge myself too much. Likewise if I had a stormer I wasn't going to get over-excited either. I don't know if I'll be playing every week, but I'd love to play every week."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney had not planned for Kearney to finish the match, but later insisted the 25 year-old's confidence will have grown from the experience. Though he did not expect to be on the pitch at the final whistle, Kearney was delighted by the way his left knee responded to the work out.
"When I saw (replacement) Felix Jones on the line I wasn't happy to be going off, but I thought maybe that was for me," he said. "During the week I'd prepared for 60 or 70 minutes, maybe a little foolishly.
"Then I'd got cramp towards the end for their try. I was a little bit surprised I got through the full 80 and was given the full 80. But the knee feels brilliant, which for me was the most important thing.
"There were a couple of tackles and contact situations where I thought 'it's nice to be back'. You appreciate those collisions again in a strange sort of way."
Kearney gave his jersey to team physio Brian Green after the match.
"Brian's been fantastic over the last nine months. When you're injured you're out in the cold a little bit at times," he said. "You only have your rehabilitator to whinge down the phone to and throw your strops with. He was brilliant. It was just a small gesture. I just wanted him to know how much I appreciated everything he'd done."
Kearney's return allowed Ireland to gleam some satisfaction from an otherwise frustrating afternoon.
Leading 6-3 through two Jonathan Sexton penalties, they saw victory snatched from their grasp with four minutes to go when a superb break and pass from Nick De Luca allowed Joe Ansbro to turn on the afterburners and beat Andrew Trimble on his way to the line.
It was a beautifully executed try from Scotland, whose strong line-up struggled to dispatch an experimental Ireland team.
"It was tough and physical out there. We did a huge amount of defending and we had very little ball to play with," said Kearney. "We attacked very little. In the first half all we could put together in Scotland's half was seven or eight minutes.
"It's difficult to win games when you have such little possession but we were hanging in there. It was looking good until that one at the end."
Kidney can take comfort from the knowledge he has four more warm-up games, three of them internationals, in which to shape and prepare his squad. Two of them are against France, away and home, and one against an England side intent on avenging the defeat that ended their Grand Slam ambitions in March.
Ireland will return to Bordeaux, the setting for their calamitous tournament four years ago, to face France on Saturday with a far stronger team than the one selected for Edinburgh.