| 5.9°C Dublin

Kearney to take Payne

LEINSTER full-back Rob Kearney has just seen the back of Glasgow Warrior Stuart Hogg in the PRO12 League semi-final, only to be met with Ulster's Jared Payne in the final.

It is one first-class challenge after another and Payne will be Ireland-qualified at the end of next season.

"I think he's a quality player. I have to be honest. I'm hoping his 15 months doesn't come too quickly because I think that's all he's left.

"I've no doubt that a player of his calibre is going to offer a huge amount to the Irish set-up when he does come in," said Kearney.

Kearney has always taken a keen interest in those that could contest his supremacy as Ireland's automatic first-choice full-back.

"I think his greatest attribute is probably his consistency. He has very few weaknesses," admitted the Louthman.

"I think when you are looking for cornerstone positions like full-back, it's important that every aspect of your game is at a pretty high standard. I think he's got that." Payne has also got experience at outside centre, a jersey expected to be vacated by one Brian O'Driscoll at the end of 2013/2014.

The former Waikato Chief (2007), Canterbury Crusader (2009 and 2010) and Auckland Blue (2011) has seen that there could be a hole in the Irish midfield.

"I don't know how much he has played at 13. I remember reading an interview with him when he said he'd like to be playing a little more at 13," said Kearney.

"And Mark Anscombe has said something similar. But that's all in the future. He'll be playing full-back at the weekend."

The form book all season points to Ulster. They have dominated the PRO12 League, despite a dip in form during the Six Nations window.

"They are the form team in the Rabo this year. There is no doubt about it," conceded Kearney.

"Although they will probably be unhappy with their performance in the quarter-final, they are one of the form sides in Europe too.

"They did a job on us in the RDS this season already, so they will have no qualms about coming here to beat us again."

Kearney doesn't want the season to end as it has done in losing the last three league finals to the Ospreys twice and Munster once.

"I don't think our commitment over the last couple of years in terms of that final game can be questioned," he said.



"I think it is a mental challenge. Getting up for two finals in a row is a difficult thing to do. But I think you have to learn from these things. Last year, we won the Heineken the week before the Rabo and then we went out and lost. It's so true. You do only remember and the emotions stick with you from the previous game.

"When you put yourself in the position to sort of win trophies, it's a difficult thing to do.

"There is only a handful of clubs across Europe that get an opportunity to win trophies at the end of the season.

"It's what you build for the whole year. You have a 50 per cent chance of winning it, so when you do get to the final, no one likes losing them.

"It's those moments afterwards when the opposition are doing their lap of honour and collecting silverware. That's a pretty sick feeling."