If you stagnate other sides will pass you by – Kearney
JOE SCHMIDT will have no problem bringing Ireland back down to earth and ensuring his players hit the ground running while doing so, according to Rob Kearney.
One of six members of the Six Nations-winning squad who remained from the 2009 Grand Slam, the Leinster full-back played every minute of this year's successful championship campaign.
Having experienced the fall-off after the success in Declan Kidney's first season amid a raft of retirements, the 27-year-old is well placed to judge whether Ireland can maintain their standards this time around.
And, having been part of a squad who won four trophies in three years under Schmidt at provincial level, the Louthman knows that he will have no trouble keeping the players on track.
"Don't you worry, Joe doesn't even let us leave earth to have to bring us back down. I think that's one of his big strengths as a coach," said Kearney. "He's got good experience in the Heineken Cup to do that, with us being able to go back-to-back (in Europe).
"Provided the coaching staff have that mentality and the players have that aspect where we want to continually improve, we can progress.
"If you stagnate, other teams pass you by pretty quickly. If we can all avoid that mindset, we should be competing again next year.
"As individuals, you can only control your own performance and how you look at things – you are constantly trying to improve and better yourself and never just accepting where you are at that time.
"I think we're very lucky because we've got a coaching staff who will make sure this will be at the forefront of our minds.
"We will review that French game in time and you can be sure there will be a lot of stuff that Joe will have a cut off guys about.
"At the time it might not be great – you're in a meeting room and you're thinking: 'We've won a championship and here's our coach having little pops at guys,' but it's that kind of mindset that enables you to continue to improve as a team."
Defence coach Les Kiss was assistant to Kidney in 2009 and he believes that relative lack of time between now and the World Cup compared to that season will help focus the minds.
"The challenge now is to maintain that type of environment and I'm pretty sure, when you look at the leadership group that we have, that they are willing and able to keep driving that and make sure it stays where it is," the Australian said.
"If we maintain those standards and improve areas where we would like to enhance our game, we have every chance of staying consistent.
"I would also say that the gap between the World Cup and now is a lot shorter than it was back then, so there are only 10 Tests (not counting pre-World Cup warm-ups) before we get there. Basically, we can't afford to take our eye off the ball."
Schmidt stressed yesterday that retaining the Six Nations remains a priority next year, despite the looming World Cup in September.
And Kearney echoed his coach's sentiments, saying that keeping a winning habit is key.
"What is building for a World Cup? It probably is building a squad of 25 players, 30 players, who will be fully comfortable playing on a World Cup stage," he said.
"But I think, at the same time, the coaches have a big job. They have to win each game. If you lose a game, it's not a valid excuse to say, 'It's okay, we're building for a World Cup.'
"So you have to win every game you're playing in. I think maybe, I don't know, but Joe would probably have liked to have used a couple more players in the Six Nations.
"But one of the things is that if guys are given the jersey and perform well in it, you have to reward that and it's very difficult to drop someone who has played well just by using the mantra that you want to build a squad.
"Maybe he'll use (the summer tour to) Argentina as a good time to put some new guys in there and give them their opportunity, because there's a lot of guys in the country who deserve their opportunity to play for Ireland, they just haven't had that right time to get it yet.
"We all know Joe is pretty clever, so he'll have some sort of game plan up his sleeve."