Sport Rugby

Thursday 22 February 2018

'It's not going to happen overnight for Schmidt' - Rob Kearney

Rob Kearney pictured during an Ireland open training session ahead of their Guinness Series International game against Samoa
Rob Kearney pictured during an Ireland open training session ahead of their Guinness Series International game against Samoa
Rob Kearney during an Ireland open training session ahead of their Guinness Series International game against Samoa, on Saturday 9 November
Rob Kearney says Joe Schmidt will need time
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THROUGHOUT this week, the noises coming out of Ireland's camp have been positive.

With a new coaching team, the return of a host of experienced players, a couple of new faces and a daunting fixture list, there is a sense of a new era around Carton House.

Rob Kearney has been involved in the international set-up for some time now and he is energised by the mood in Joe Schmidt's squad, but he admits there is a disparity between how the Ireland team feel right now and the run of results that made last season one of their worst in recent memory.

One example of the high spirits came on Tuesday when the squad assembled on the Aviva Stadium pitch for the 2013/14 official photograph. Bets were taken and all eyes were on who would be seated next to IRFU president Pat Fitzgerald as an indicator of who might lead the team out against Samoa.

The Louth man wasn't naming names -- although pictorial evidence suggests Paul O'Connell was front and centre and the man at the end of the slagging -- but he recounted the tale with a smile that suggests things are good right now in Maynooth.

That may be, but Kearney knows that the players and staff getting on famously will count for little if the team do not produce against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand over the coming weeks.

"I am always one for assessing just solely on results, and our results have been poor," he said.


"We finished poorly in the Six Nations. If you're looking objectively on it, we're probably not in a great situation.

"From when we are inside the camp it is very different. There is a freshness there. There is new excitement. We've got some key players back and fit.

"Where we are perceived to be and where we actually feel we are, are pretty far apart. But, in saying that, we need to back it up with some wins."

That new coach has been installed and his is a familiar face to Kearney and the 14 other Leinster players in the Ireland squad.

After three years working with Joe Schmidt the club coach, now they are adjusting to dealing with the New Zealander as national team supremo and the expectation that will come with his appointment.

The full-back has urged patience this November, recalling Schmidt's difficult opening month as a provincial coach and saying that it will take time to lift the players from their recent slump.

"It's important that people try and look past his experience with Leinster. He has taken on a new team here, a new competition, new opposition, which is important as well, and he has got a whole new coaching team," he said.

"I'm sure in his mind he is trying to stress the point it's not going to happen immediately for him and that it is a work in progress.

"You look back to his first five or six games with Leinster -- there were headlines calling for the coach's head back then, and look what happened, so there is a learning curve.

"That is not to say in any shape or form that the country should be expecting three losses, because that's not what I'm saying. But I do think it will take time before we see the best performance from this Irish team. It is not going to happen immediately.

"We haven't had a huge amount of time together as a team. We have done quite a bit of defence over the last few days as a team and, I'd imagine, that towards the end of the week we'll focus on our attack a little bit more.

"They're the challenges that the coaches have a little bit and we need to make sure that we're ready to train, that we're in good shape and that whatever is thrown at us for that 90-minute session, we're able to commit to it fully."


After the disappointment of his Lions tour that never got going last June, Kearney is happy with how his season has gone so far.

"Coming back from the summer I was excited to get back on the field. I wanted to make sure that when I got back on the field that there wasn't this air of anticipation over me, that I didn't have to go out and prove myself and show why, in my mind, I should have been out there on the field during the summer," he explained.

"I'm five games back in, I feel good."

A minor hamstring injury disrupted his Lions preparation and when he worked his way back to fitness, Leigh Halfpenny had kicked his way into the Test team.

It was a difficult summer for the Louth man, but he is looking to put it behind him.

"I suppose the start of it was frustrating because it was such a small injury. It wasn't even a grade-one hamstring tear and it took two and a half weeks," he recalled.

"I spoke to (Warren) Gatland in Dubai and he sort of hinted that 'just get yourself right for the last four or five games,' which might have thrown me a little bit.

"I always knew that I needed Johnny (Sexton) to kick really, really well for me to have some sort of impact on that first 15.

"You do keep hope to the end that there could be injuries, there could be poor performances -- which was proving less and less likely seeing as he (Halfpenny) couldn't miss.

"Once the tour was over, I just wanted home, wanted to take my summer holidays. After that, it was pretty easy to forget. It was just one of those you put down as something that didn't go your way. Not everything goes your way.

"Unfortunately for me, something went against me on the grand scheme of things. It was a pretty big sporting arena. But, you know, s**t happens. You move on."

He'll hope to get a crack at Australia in two weeks' time, while the final game against New Zealand will give Kearney and the other players who endured the massacre in Hamilton a chance to get one back on the All Blacks.

The 60-0 defeat hung over Irish rugby for the entirety of last season and this is a chance to make up for the humiliation.

"That was an embarrassment. From my perspective it was the worst 80 minutes of rugby I've ever had to endure on a field," Kearney recalled.

"While it might have been tough for you guys watching it, it was quadruple-tough for us going behind our sticks every three minutes to watch them kick another conversion.

"So, there will be that at the back of our minds. But our performance that day was so far off from the standards that we set for ourselves as a team and it's important not to look too much at results on scoreboards and things like that.

"If we can just think through the moments and the process of doing things right every few phases then the rest will look after itself."

The parts are in place and the mood is good, but the experienced members of the squad know that the results must follow.

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