Kearney confident Ireland can make Six Nations leap from fifth to first
ROB KEARNEY insists Ireland can put last year's poor Six Nations performance behind them and challenge for honours this season.
The full-back was an ever-present for Declan Kidney during the former coach's disastrous final campaign that saw his injury-ravaged side lose its way after a strong start in Wales.
They ended up avoiding bottom place on points difference with just one win to their name, but with Joe Schmidt now in charge, a host of players back fit and the memory of the All Blacks performance fresh in their minds, the Louth man believes they can bridge the gap between second from bottom and top within a year.
"There's a lot of factors. There was a huge amount of injuries last year," said Kearney, who is set to win his 50th cap against Scotland this weekend. "We've got a new coaching staff. We've got better depth in the squad, probably better players. Okay it is a big jump to go from fifth to first, but as this tournament has proved so much over the years, and is proving more, is that margins are tight and the differences between the first team and the fourth team are tiny. You are going to need a little bit of luck along the way too."
Ireland are likely to be without injured pair Eoin Reddan and Mike McCarthy for Sunday's opening game against the Scots, with Schmidt set to name his team tomorrow.
Isaac Boss was added to the squad and is set to come on to the bench, while Luke Marshall is pushing hard for a place in the New Zealander's team. Luke Fitzgerald took a limited part in training yesterday as he struggles with a groin strain and Andrew Trimble's size could see him force his way into Schmidt's plans after Scotland named a back three of Sean Lamont, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg. Chris Henry remains the likeliest starter at openside in Sean O'Brien's absence.
Kearney believes that competition for places is fierce.
"If you are not performing he will replace you," he said of Schmidt. "He's done that a little bit over November and I'm sure there will definitely be changes throughout this competition."