Monday 16 September 2019

Kearney: Teams are not picked on who scores most tries

‘I enjoyed a really good, injury-free, good form season last year and didn’t score a try. It was my first season without one’. Photo: Sportsfile
‘I enjoyed a really good, injury-free, good form season last year and didn’t score a try. It was my first season without one’. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Rob Kearney has been around the block enough times to know the importance of blocking out the external 'noise', but sometimes, even for a vastly-experienced international, that is easier said than done.

The 32-year-old returns from a shoulder injury against the All Blacks tomorrow evening and he will do so fully aware that he has now gone 20 games without a try for Ireland and another 24 without one for Leinster.

It's a barren run that stretches back to September 2016 when Kearney scored for Leinster, yet before that try against Glasgow it had been almost two years to the day since he had crossed the whitewash in a blue jersey.

Kearney has consequently copped a lot of flak from several quarters, especially since the emergence of contenders for his place in the Ireland team.

That has been the case for the last number of years and each time a younger player threatens to overtake him in the pecking order, Kearney responds to the challenge.

Jordan Larmour might well be the one who eventually takes over the number 15 jersey but the Argentina game last weekend highlighted that he has a way to go before being as assured under the high ball as Kearney.

When he first burst on to the scene in 2005, Kearney regularly scored tries but as the years have gone on his record has fluctuated and it has slowly become less of a hallmark of his game.

The last time Kearney scored a try in a green jersey was in the World Cup win over France three years ago - at which point he had scored three on the bounce.

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For all of that, there is a reason why the two-times Lions tourist continues to get selected by different coaches, and particularly Joe Schmidt.

Kearney might not be the most thrilling full-back in the world but he spreads calm in the back-three with his excellent communication skills, which often allows others with more flair to flourish.

He is the most-decorated player in the history of Irish rugby yet he is fully aware of the criticism aimed at him.

"I am pretty happy with my form but it would be nice to get a few more tries, to be honest," Kearney told the Irish Independent.

"It doesn't bother me because I know that teams aren't picked on players who score tries.

"I've been dealing with that my whole career and the last four or five years with supporters thinking this and that about me. I know that coaches don't pick players on tries.

"I enjoyed a really good, injury-free, good form season last year and didn't score a try. It was my first season ever without one.

"You probably understand a little bit more that it's not the be all and end all but at the same time, it would be nice to pick up a few.

"I've come very close to a few but listen, if I keep running good support lines and making sure I am doing the right thing, they are bound to come sooner or later."

There will be some supporters who still feel that Larmour should be at full-back this weekend but Kearney remains the first choice.

It's an ongoing debate that was put to Brian O'Driscoll last week and he offered his take on the Kearney/Larmour duel.

"His (Larmour) fielding game, which is very, very important in international rugby, is something that we associate with Kearney, who is one of the best fielding full-backs in the world," the former Ireland captain said.

"His kicking game, likewise, is superior to Jordan Larmour. So there are aspects of the game that Kearney is better than Larmour at and vice versa.

"Defensively, I think Rob probably just has the edge. Jordan just needs to learn positionally.

"So I think probably Rob is the safer option for now with an eye on the World Cup being 10 months away, but Jordan has all but played himself in as a bench player."

Kearney will come up against Ben Smith at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow, although the versatile Kiwi has been selected on the wing rather than at full-back, as two of the finest aerial players in the world look to get the upper-hand for their respective sides.

Throughout his 11-year international career, Kearney has swapped jerseys with plenty of top-class players, but only one of them takes pride of place in his house.

"I have Ben Smith's jersey and my one from Chicago framed together at home and the other ones are just lying around," Kearney added.

"Beating them (New Zealand) for the first time, I think it will go down as an unbelievably historic day in Irish rugby.

"And I suppose, he is a player who I massively admire as well. He's pure class."

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