'I get butterflies every time he reads out team'
Dave Kearney has blazed a trail at international level but admits he faces battle for Leinster place
DAVE KEARNEY has barely put a foot wrong this season, so one assumes he's allowed a minor slip of the tongue.
As he appears before the media this week – only Nadia Forde has done more press in the past two months, it seems – the newest Ireland international is rattling off the list of threats he expects Northampton Saints to pose.
As he is doing so, the name of Ben Foden trips from his lips. Eh, sorry Dave, broken leg. Smashed until spring. Cue quizzical eyebrow-raising.
"I haven't heard he's gone ... " he mutters. Run the VCR again lads.
It reminds one of the great yarn from Donal Keenan's new book on Páidí Ó Sé.
When the Ventry man was policing a half-time team-talk with Westmeath, he paid particular attention to exhorting the efforts of Russell Casey.
"Yerra, you're doing mighty shhtuf!" roared Ó Sé, before his assistant Tomás Ó Flatharta politely interjected.
"Eh, Páidí," whispered his fellow Kerryman. "Russell wasn't playing in the first half."
No matter. Leinster's back-room experts famously helped them to win the Heineken Cup in 2011 by dint of their half-time analysis.
The homework will be predictably thorough.
Perhaps Kearney was distracted by the gravity of the unusual situation in which he now finds himself – a try-scorer on the double with Ireland under his old Leinster boss, he may now arguably find it even tougher to get into his club side.
With Keith Earls sidelined, the exclusion of others, such as Niall Morris and Andrew Trimble, opened the door for Kearney to belatedly debut for his country under Joe Schmidt, fully 18 months after he first lined up for the anthems as a substitute against Wales.
His spectacular Samoan scoring spree gobbled up any lingering anxiety he had harboured about his international hopes during that long hiatus between benching in February 2012 and dotting down against the Pacific islanders last month.
Starting against the All Blacks, once Fergus McFadden broke a bone in his hand against the Aussies, confirmed his newly exalted status.
As he sat in the RDS stands last Saturday night, however, he could have been forgiven for contemplating what all this might mean for his Leinster situation.
Coach Matt O'Connor has warned that he is not a walk-in to his Heineken Cup side. With Zane Kirchner renewing the qualities that accompanied his formative Springbok years, the younger Kearney could be in a selection pickle.
"Absolutely, yeah," he replies when pressed as to the quandary of one day starting against the best team in world rugby and then sweating on one's provincial place.
"Every time Matt names a team you don't know whether you're going to be in it. You get that butterflies feeling in the stomach every single time he calls out those names," says Kearney.
"That's not going to change. Zane had a really good game at the weekend, as did Luke Fitzgerald.
"There's a lot of competition here. It's the same every year. When you come back from Ireland, at Leinster it's just as difficult to get back into the squad.
"Of course, I'm happy with how my performances are going of late. It was really good for me to get the first cap and experience rugby at that level and intensity. I can take a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum from that.
"This game is going to be no different, intensity wise. It's going to be a test level game. It's a real positive for me coming into that."
Never mind Foden, Leinster will have enough to contend with in their preoccupation with George North's rampant quest for open territory.
The Welsh star has had a relatively quiet introduction to English club rugby, but last Saturday against the Wallabies confirmed to Leinster his clear and present danger.
"As a defensive unit, we just can't afford to give him much space," insists Kearney.
"This season we've been working really hard at getting off the line.
"If we can do that and try and close the space off early that's going to be the key, because he gets a bit of space and when he gets to use that power and pace, he's pretty tough to stop.
"He's definitely up there with the best in the world, most certainly.
"At the highest level and in the biggest games – the Lions and things like that – he has performed really well.
"He's an unbelievable athlete, even last week for Wales, he moved into 13 as well and was still able to perform at a really high level.
"He's definitely a quality player and someone we're really going to have to watch out for."
Leinster were undone in this competition at this stage 12 months ago.
At a team meeting on Monday morning, the squad held a forthright discussion to galvanise themselves for the biggest fortnight of their season so far.
"If you don't win these two games, you put yourself in a really tough position to move on and to succeed in the competition," is Kearney's report from that leadership summit.
"A lot of guys still get nightmares about this time last season, when we really didn't perform."
There can be no more slip-ups. Leinster simply cannot afford another nightmare before Christmas.