Thursday 21 September 2017

'You must follow your instincts'

Kearney relishing trust placed in him by Schmidt as Kidney's tactical kicking constraints left behind

Ireland's Rob Kearney and Paddy Jackson during squad training
Ireland's Rob Kearney and Paddy Jackson during squad training
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

MAYBE it was the driving rain during Ireland's training session in Maynooth that triggered flashbacks from last year's grim Six Nations.

The memory is not a pretty one as the recollections come flooding back of one win and a draw, avoiding bottom place on points difference and the stretcher-bearers coming close to earning caps given the amount of time they spent on the field.

It was, as Rob Kearney said of the defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield, "grim".

"We should have beaten them," he continues, on his memories of that day. "Obviously ROG's cross-field kick... it was a game we should have won. It was a competition, a tournament, where nothing really went right."

GHOSTS

The fact that Ireland kick-off against Scotland on Sunday should help exorcise some of the ghosts from that day when they dominated possession and territory, but passed up scoring opportunities as if they were beyond passé.

If the Joe Schmidt era is to move on from the injury-dominated nadir of Declan Kidney's time in charge, getting back to the days when the Scots were dismissed early and beaten well would be a start.

With Wales looming on the horizon, it would be easy to take their eye off the ball, but Ireland must maintain their focus and do a professional job on the Scots.

A win and signs that the new coach's game plan is fitting into place would be progress after a mixed November, which ended on a such melancholy note. Kearney says that the poor weather during training won't be used as an excuse for any inaccuracy. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"It was rotten out there, the worst we've had in a long, long time," he admitts of the session carried out in a downpour yesterday.

"The type of game plan that he (Schmidt) wants to play, while not high risk, does demand a high skill level.

"In the wetter weather it is harder to execute those passes, but he made one good point this morning when we were running through our plays and our game plan. He said: 'If you can implement this sort of stuff in this weather, then you will be very hard to beat when it's dry'.

"I suppose, that's a mindset that we tried to bring to it today, that if we can be the most accurate team, even when the weather is rubbish, then we will be in a good place."

Kearney is one of those players comfortable in his own skin around the new coach after three years working with him at Leinster. Asked what the difference is when coming into camp compared to life under Schmidt's predecessor Kidney, he says that, under the New Zealander, he is encouraged to play heads-up rugby and become more involved without fear of repercussions.

"There's some big differences," he says after a long pause.

"Declan enjoyed the full-back kicking a lot of ball. The impression I got was that, when a full-back got the ball, his preferred first option was, more often than not, to have a kick unless there was an obvious opening, whereas, with Joe, he wants us to counter and have a go straight away.

"It is always difficult when your coaches have that frame of mind, because the game comes and it is you who makes that decision; if you have a go and it gets turned over, then it is you who gets the rap, not the coach. That was the one glaring thing.

"Off set-pieces, Joe involves the full-back a little bit more, off some strike moves. He makes sure that if we have got power plays of up to three or four phases, that we have got as many guys as possible involved.

"I would always back myself. I think you always have to go with your instincts on it and, if you think it is on, to go and have a crack, then do. I suppose it is probably a little bit more comforting knowing you have a coach who wants you to do that."

One other contrast from last season is that the contracts issue has been put well and truly to bed in time for kick-off, whereas last year Kearney was one of those players whose future was up in the air during the early stages of the competition.

And, Kearney says, ensuring the deals were done is important, even if they did drag on to a degree.

"It has to affect guys because you're uncertain about your future," he concedes. "You don't know what team you are going to be playing for next season, you don't know where you're going to be living.

"As much as guys say 'it is not affecting my rugby,' it has to be subconsciously. It has to be affecting your day job and I think the important thing is that when you come to a field on a Saturday afternoon, your whole life is in order.

"Everything outside of rugby has to be as perfect as possible to help you play that perfect game on Saturday, which is what we all want.

TEDIOUS

"It is great and fair play to the IRFU and the players involved, they got those contracts sorted. It's probably drawn out a bit longer than we wanted; the whole negotiations get a little bit tedious towards the end.

"The important thing is everyone is signed up before the Six Nations, so players can focus on what they need to."

That will help. And while November helped move things on, perhaps it is only on Sunday when Ireland finally take to the field and kick-off their 2014 campaign that last year can truly be put to bed.

The noises from the camp promise improvement – a win would help the process of moving on and help them all to forget the horrors of last season.

Irish Independent

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