Thursday 19 April 2018

Kearney to wing it for sake of Cheika cause

Hugh Farrelly

LEINSTER coach Michael Cheika has been rightly credited with bringing through an array of Irish talent since he took the reins five seasons ago, names that will buttress Ireland's World Cup assault in New Zealand in 2011.

However, his selection for this weekend's Magners League clash with pace-setters Glasgow -- presuming it goes ahead -- is not ideal from Ireland's Six Nations point of view. Rob Kearney made his Ireland debut against Argentina in 2007 with the No 11 jersey on his back and was not capped in his best position of full-back until his fifth international appearance against Wales in the 2008 Six Nations.

He guested on the left wing four more times for his country, but, since Ireland suited up for their Grand Slam drive last year, Kearney has been the man at 15 in a year that included a stunning three-Test show for the Lions. Indeed, you would not find too many quibblers if he was selected at full-back on a World XV.

He has been switched to the wing regularly by Leinster also over the past number of seasons to accommodate Girvan Dempsey and Isa Nacewa and now finds himself in the No 11 jersey once again for the Warriors clash.

Luke Fitzgerald's injury robs Cheika of his regular left winger and his strongest team would have Nacewa in that position with Shane Horgan on the right and Kearney at the back. The ever-efficient Dempsey gets the 15 jersey this evening, but is more than capable of doing a job on the left.

Kearney spilled more ball against the Scarlets in his last outing than he had in the previous two seasons, but the Louth man's quality is not in question and he will undoubtedly be restored to full-back for Leinster's final two Heineken Cup pool games and for Ireland's Six Nations campaign. On that basis, this selection is 'no biggie,' but the optimum situation would see Kearney wearing 15 every time he takes the field.

The other non-ideal pick for Ireland coach Declan Kidney is Stan Wright at tight-head ahead of Mike Ross. Tony Buckley's destruction at the shoulders of Tom Court last weekend emphasised the ongoing issue of back-up to John Hayes for Ireland and Ross is one of the main contenders. However, while Cian Healy has made the loose-head jersey his own for Leinster and Ireland, Ross has not been able to nail down his club No 3 slot since his switch from Harlequins.

Indeed, if CJ van der Linde was not receiving his latest bout of treatment for a calf injury, Ross might not have even made the bench.

Ability-wise, Wright's starting position cannot be questioned as the Cook Island international has been a low-profile leviathan for Leinster over the past few seasons.


However, with green-tinted glasses on, it would have been good to see Ross test himself against the promising Jon Welsh in the scrum, while continuing to work on his game around the park.

There is more encouraging news for Kidney with the welcome returns of Jonathan Sexton to the out-half slot, following his broken hand, and Shane Jennings to the back-row, after 12 frustrating weeks on the sidelines following his questionable suspension.

Cheika has embraced the openside's return by handing him the captaincy and the 28-year-old leads a powerful side out at the RDS, with Kevin McLaughlin and Jamie Heaslip filling out the back- row, Devin Toner and Nathan Hines carrying a nice balance in the second row, while Healy, John Fogarty and Stan Wright should bring solidity and mobility to the front-row exchanges.

Eoin Reddan will relish the opportunity of measuring himself against Chris Cusiter, while Fergus McFadden and Brian O'Driscoll form a dangerous midfield combination. McFadden has had to play second fiddle to Gordon D'Arcy and O'Driscoll at club level, but is a player with a big future, as he proved when picking up the Player of the tournament award during Ireland A's successful Churchill Cup campaign last summer. His performances in that competition attracted interest from other clubs, but the 23-year-old is happy to stay put for the time being.

"A couple of clubs might have come forward from England, but I'm happy where I am," said McFadden.

"I know I might not be getting as much game time as other players, but I feel my time will come and I'll take my chance when it does. You want game time so I suppose when you're not getting that it's a small bit frustrating.

"But the last few weeks have been better for me, I have been in both squads for the Heineken Cup and I got 10-20 minute cameos in both of those games. I was due to start last week (against Connacht), disappointingly for me it was called off, and I'm just looking forward to getting a start this week."

McFadden acknowledges that playing and training with centres as accomplished as O'Driscoll and D'Arcy has been hugely beneficial to his career.

"When I came up first from the Academy I was a small bit overawed. Maybe not quite overawed, but when I was training with him, maybe I was looking at him thinking: 'Jesus, that's Brian O'Driscoll'. I was in school five years ago looking at him in a different way.

"Nowadays he's more kind of a peer and a team-mate. I've learned an awful lot from him and Darce in the last year or so. As it is, it can be frustrating at times not getting games, but I still am learning a lot from him and Gordon."

Glasgow come to Dublin in bullish form with flanker John Barclay voicing their determination to claim the scalp of the European champions. Their team-sheet reveals no obvious weaknesses with the back-row of Barclay, John Beattie and Kelly Brown their strongest unit behind a powerful front-five.

In Richie Gray, Glasgow have a second-row seen as having a big international future, while Welsh and Moray Low would give any scrum in Europe a decent work-out. At half-back, Cusiter and Dan Parks are experienced and savvy operators, with the Evans brothers providing the rapier in the three-quarter line where Graeme Morrison wields the cudgel at inside centre.

The Warriors will fancy their chances and look to end an 11-game losing streak in Dublin, having won their last six Magners matches. However, Cheika's men have won their last 10 league matches in the RDS and backboned by Kurt McQuilkin's superb defensive system, have the quality and desire to freeze Glasgow ambition.

Verdict: Leinster

LEINSTER -- G Dempsey; I Nacewa, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, R Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, J Fogarty, S Wright; D Toner, N Hines; K McLaughlin, S Jennings (capt), J Heaslip. Reps: B Jackman, M Ross, M O'Kelly, Stephen Keogh, P O'Donohoe, S Berne, Simon Keogh.

GLASGOW -- B Stortoni; D van der Merwe, M Evans, G Morrison, T Evans; D Parks, C Cusiter; J Welsh, D Hall, M Low; A Kellock (capt), R Gray; K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie. Reps: F Thomson, K Tkachuk, D Turner, J Eddie, C Gregor, R Jackson, R Dewey.

REF - J Jones (Wales)

Leinster v Glasgow Warriors,

Live, Setanta Ireland, 8.0

Irish Independent

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