I can win my Lions fitness race – Kearney
ROB KEARNEY has admitted that he feared the worst when he went for a scan on his hamstring injury, but the Ireland star remains hopeful of winning his race against time to be fit for the Lions Test series.
The 27-year-old Louth man misses out on this morning's clash with the Western Force and Saturday's meeting with Queensland Reds but is targeting a return in one of next week's games, with the fixture against Michael Cheika's NSW Waratahs on Saturday week appearing the most realistic opportunity.
That game comes seven days before the first Test against Australia and represents the 2009 veteran's best chance of impressing coach Warren Gatland and forcing his way into the reckoning for the Brisbane showdown.
Kearney suffered the injury before last month's Pro12 final victory against Ulster. Rehabilitation was going slower than expected and he was sent for a scan on the muscle last Sunday. It revealed only a Grade 1 tear, meaning there was still time to make a bid for the series.
"It was a mixture of disappointment and relief," Kearney writes of receiving the news in today's exclusive Irish Independent tour diary.
"Before the scan I knew that if the injury proved to be worse than expected there was a real possibility of returning home without ever wearing the jersey, so when the results came out as they were, while it wasn't great news, I knew I could still contribute to the tour.
"If there is one time every four years that a player does not want to pick up an injury this is it, but I am hopeful that I will still get a chance to prove myself ahead of the Test series."
Meanwhile, Rory Best yesterday described his involvement with the Lions as "the opportunity of a lifetime".
"It's a massive honour to be selected for the Lions. It doesn't matter whether I was in the original squad or not," said the Ulster hooker, who was selected to replace the suspended Dylan Hartley.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime and one that very few people get."
The Ireland and Ulster hooker makes his Lions debut in today's (11.0am Irish time) game against Super 15 side Western Force and insisted that his appetite has not been sated by making the extended squad.
Best wouldn't be the first player to come from the outside and end up starring on a Lions series, and he has his sights set on playing his way into the Test team.
"It's all about playing in the Tests. That's the goal for all 37 players here and I'm no exception to that," he said.
"You want to get out there and do your best. Everyone has that same mindset. The competition for places is what it's all about.
"For me whether I was selected in the initial group or came in late as I did it doesn't matter. I'm here now, I'm getting a chance to play and it's a massive honour and I'm looking forward to playing against Western Force and getting my tour started."
Best is one of eight Irish players featuring for the Lions in Perth today in a side that will be captained by Brian O'Driscoll.
And while Western Force will not be at full strength – they have a Super 15 derby against the Waratahs on Saturday – Warren Gatland's side are taking nothing for granted and they will provide strong opposition according to Best.
"They have a lot of experience in their side and they will be very determined to take our scalp," he said.
"We have to focus on ourselves and getting our calls and moves right. That's the challenge for what is another new group of players.
"These games are all about making the most of your chance with everything focused on playing in the Tests."