Time to banish Hamilton horror show
THE countdown to next month's date with South Africa has added importance for Rob Kearney. Having missed the entire season thus far, he now has the Springboks in his sights.
Despite his ongoing struggles with a back injury, the Ireland full-back will be one of the first names on Declan Kidney's squad for the November internationals when it is announced this afternoon at Lansdowne Road.
As one of the coach's most trusted lieutenants, the 26-year-old Lion is one of those looking to right the wrongs of that 60-0 defeat by the All Blacks in Hamilton. He has played for just 32 frustrating minutes since Ireland's worst defeat in history -- a game in which he was sin-binned -- and knows that this November is all about redemption.
The brand took a battering last June, a week after the team came within minutes of immortality in Christchurch and only victory over the Springboks will help to lift the gloom.
Kearney believes that the lingering feeling from that day in New Zealand can drive Ireland to something special.
"There will be no hangover, but it will be on our minds, of course," he said. "It was a pretty embarrassing defeat, losing 60-0 is not a nice feeling. I think a lot of guys will want to really make up for what happened over there. We let ourselves and our country down.
"The players coming back will strengthen the team and that second Test showed how close we were. On another day, with another referee, we would have created history and that whole tour would have been remembered for a fantastic second Test."
There is a lot of negativity surrounding the Ireland team at the moment, with Kidney under pressure going into the final year of his contract. But his full-back believes that there are signs that a big win is within this squad, who have struggled for consistency since last year's World Cup.
"We're not too far off, we know that on our day we can beat any team and we proved that at the World Cup by beating the form team -- Australia. And we almost did it in the second Test in New Zealand. We know it is only little things that need to be changed," he said.
South Africa are a team that Kearney has done well against over the years. He made his name internationally against the then world champions when playing for the Lions, while he has impressed against them in meetings since.
And the Louthman reckons their style of play can suit his strengths.
"They are known for kicking a fair amount of ball and, as a full-back, it is something I have to deal with. It is how you get into games. For those two reasons it is always a nice fixture," he said at the launch of the 'Medal of Honor, Warfighter' video game.
The 26-year-old will undergo a fitness test tomorrow to see if he will be ready to play for Leinster against the Cardiff Blues on Saturday, with the clash against the Ospreys a week later looking the more likely date for his comeback.
He was slow returning after last year's long campaign and, when he did, he picked up a heavy blow to his back against Connacht. There has been temptation to rush himself back as his province struggle to hit form in the opening stages, but he has managed to resist that in the knowledge that there is a long season ahead.
"You learn to listen to your body and you need to be clever. You have to put a lot of trust in your doctors and physios as well, knowing that they will make the right decision for you and your body, and the team," he said.
He has stated that coming straight back into an international side would not faze him, but Kearney admits that he would have to be 100pc fit to do so.
"If I was in a situation like that, it would certainly focus the mind," he said. "If you are a couple of per cent off, then you will be exposed and that is never a nice thing to happen on the international stage."
Watching Leinster has been frustrating for everyone involved this season and sitting in the stand, injured, must have been even more difficult for the long list of injured players.
"It is always difficult watching your team from the sidelines, but it is something that you get to grips with. It is a little easier when they are winning big games," Kearney said.
"You can't play every game in a season, every year. there are always big games that you will miss. It is about channelling that frustration and just having the faith that you can come back into contention quickly.
"We're not performing to the best of our potential, but we are still winning big games and that's encouraging. You can't win Heineken Cups in October, but you can certainly lose them.
"A lot of teams have played themselves out of contention in the first two games and we haven't. Now its about making sure we're still there after rounds three and four."