Sunday 18 February 2018

Rob: 'I'd have been happy to be in the sin bin for rest of the game'

Rob Kearney taking on board Joe Schmidt’s instructions at training. Photo: Sportsfile
Rob Kearney taking on board Joe Schmidt’s instructions at training. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The last time Ireland 'poked the bear' and New Zealand had an immediate chance to set the record straight, the All Blacks cantered to an utterly ruthless record win between the sides.

The previous week in Christchurch, New Zealand had to rely on a Dan Carter drop goal at the death to ensure that they didn't draw with Ireland.

New Zealand's performance irked them beyond belief and what followed seven days later in Hamilton was one of the darkest days in Irish rugby history.

Steve Hansen largely kept faith with the same side and they blew Ireland out of the water with a devastating 60-0 humiliation.

While it is almost impossible to imagine something similar happening under Joe Schmidt's watch, his assessment that they had 'poked the bear' by winning in Chicago two weeks ago has certainly evoked some painful memories for those players who were involved that night.

Forget

Of this Saturday's likely match day squad that will be confirmed by Schmidt today, 11 were picked by Declan Kidney in Waikato Stadium back in 2012.

Rob Kearney started all three tests of that tour of New Zealand and the third game in particular is one that he would rather forget.

With Ireland trailing 26-0, Kearney was somewhat harshly shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on in the dying stages of the first half, and with that went Ireland's hopes of mounting what was always going to be the most unlikely of comebacks.

"The only thing I remember in that game is constantly being under our sticks," Kearney recalls. "There was a try every few minutes at least. That was a tough night.

"I remember Romain Poite sin-binned me, it wasn't a yellow card now, but I remember thinking, 'Jeez, I'd be happy enough just to stay here for the rest of the game.' 

"It was an awful night and it just shows [what happens] if you poke the bear, we came really close to them in Christchurch, a game we should have closed out. There was a backlash and there'll be another one this week."

Kearney's return to form has come at an ideal time and although, by his own admission, his performance in Chicago was far from faultless, there were plenty of signs of the player that was named as the best in Europe in 2012.

Schmidt has stuck by Kearney and he is desperate to continue repaying the faith that the Kiwi has shown in him during what has been a tough period.

After the win in Soldier Field, Kearney admitted that he had been through some dark days in a bid to recapture his form and he still feels as if he has more to offer.

"I never got too low during the tough times. It is important now that you don't get too high on the other side," the full-back maintains.

"It's another game under my belt. There is a little confidence back but I need to back it up. The onus is on me to do that."

While New Zealand have stayed calm, Ireland are wary as plenty of the current squad have felt the brunt of a 'Blacklash'.

"It wasn't the New Zealand that we had been used to seeing throughout The Rugby Championship," Kearney insists.

"Their lineout was poor. Some of their handling was pretty poor. They conceded five tries in the whole Championship and we scored five against them. If we're honest, it wasn't the New Zealand that we've all come to know. It's really important that we recognise and understand that.

"In three or four weeks, when we reflect on this block of games, what happens on Saturday will play a fair bit in determining just how good an autumn it was.

"It won't take away from the win and the history we've achieved, but when we review November, it would certainly take the gloss off it."

Irish Independent

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