Monday 18 December 2017

Kearney eager to go from 'zero' to heroes

Dave Kearney beats Jeff Hassler to score Leinster’s first try against the Ospreys last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Dave Kearney beats Jeff Hassler to score Leinster’s first try against the Ospreys last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Dave Kearney challenges the Ospreys' Dan Evans

Marcus Ó Buachalla

After an 18-15 quarter-final win last season in the Aviva Stadium and a 19-16 loss in Round 2 of this year's competition at the Rec, it would be fair to say there won't be much between Leinster and Bath this weekend.

Leinster winger Dave Kearney sees no reason to dispute that theory either.

"As a back, the game in the Rec this season was a strange game. It was pretty tight, not too many tries and we didn't get much ball out wide," he says.

"We couldn't get that much go-forward ball but when we did get it wide I think we caused them problems. And the try Josh (van der Flier) got was a good example of that.

"Their set-up on defence was excellent so we know what they will bring and how good they can be and we have to be on our guard."

For the neutral both games have been entertaining. Maybe not try-fests but intriguing nonetheless and both games went down to the wire. As a player?

"You would look forward to playing them but then again we'd take a 6-5 win now if offered!" says Kearney.


"But to be fair Bath do play an exciting brand of rugby, they have players who can implement an exciting brand of rugby and I suppose they have to go for it.

"They need to win their last two games, possibly with two bonus points so that might leave a few openings for us."

Kearney made his debut at the tail end of that first Heineken Cup winning season in 2008/09 against the Newport Gwent Dragons in Rodney Parade, coming on for the last 20 minutes for Kyle Tonetti.

He has since gone on to win two Heineken Cups, so he has tasted the good life. Zero from four is a very different experience.

"It's been tough, very tough," he says. "Nobody enjoys looking at that Pool table. Zero from four. Performances are no consolation because the record books will only record the scoreline but some of the games have been really tight - maybe that hasn't been reflected on the score board but it's how we feel.

"They - be it Wasps, Bath or Toulon - were more clinical with the ball that they had.

"But I think over the last few months we have started to get more comfortable. I think you can see the shape coming together. Toulon at half-time you are looking at possibly a brilliant performance, but we just let it slip."

Addressing that need for accuracy is a must if the Pool 5 table is to change in any way but the Louth man feels that it has been coming.

"We want to address that zero stat in Europe and no better time to do it. . . . The supporters at the Aviva game, nearly 45,000 were brilliant and again the last few weeks, in the driving rain at the Connacht game, they came out in their numbers and have stuck with us, but I believe that they have seen those performances improve week on week.

"The games we lost were close and we were I feel a click away from getting a result. All our games to date in Europe and in the Pro12 we've been building, defence getting stronger, scoring more tries and then I think the interpros came at a great time for us after Toulon.

"The same at Ospreys going to a place where we hadn't won since September 2009 and they were on a win of five from five. Tough games that we had to keep the performance levels high for.

"So I think as players we're all getting more comfortable with the new set-up."

That new set-up is getting less and less 'new' by the week but while Kearney is quick to dismiss the notion of a World Cup hangover there is the reality of just getting to grips with a different environment. For him that meant a new head coach, a new backs coach and a new defence coach.

"I worked with Kurt McQuilkin (defence coach) in my first senior season when he was here with Michael Cheika. He's had a great impact and the good thing is that I still think we've room to grow in that area and we have been growing in particular in tight games.

"I played a bit with Girvan (Dempsey) but also would have known him from his time as Academy manager and the Leinster 'A' coach. The shape is starting to show the last while and we are all starting to understand the rugby that Girvan wants to implement but it takes time.

"But you look at the rugby we are playing and I think it's good and exciting to watch. We are getting there but there is no magic formula and you can't just flick a switch."

There is though time on the pitch and on the training ground and in the meeting rooms. Time spent poring over opposition videos and identifying gaps. Then it's about executing on the big day when the pressure is at its most intense.

In the 39th minute of a trip to Stadio Monigo a rehearsed set-piece move on the right-hand touch line resulted in a crossfield kick from Johnny Sexton to Kearney to catch high and above his head. Both had plenty to do. Both executed superbly, with Isa Nacewa racing in support to finish off Kearney's shoulder.


In the 17th minute away to the Ospreys last Friday, same trick, same execution but this time Kearney had the time and space to finish himself despite the attention of two defenders. A first try of the season, and in the second half a second would follow.

"It's funny some games you get a load of balls and nothing opens up and I was lucky that last Friday a few did," says the winger.

"The first Johnny put it on a plate and all I had to do was step inside - he had a great game. It's rewarding when that practice comes off like that and we have to be patient but I think that is only natural.

"It's going to take time coming into a set-up after a World Cup. You had a group of lads who knew exactly what was involved and you had another 20 lads who had no clue!

"So things won't click straight away. It does take time but once everyone gets up to speed it puts you in a good position and I think that's where we are at now."

Irish Independent

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