Sunday 21 January 2018

Rob Kearney: Paulie decision to stay is huge boost for squad

His very presence will provide inspiration for all in the big tests to come

Rob Kearney in action for the Lions against the Melbourne Rebels
Rob Kearney in action for the Lions against the Melbourne Rebels

Rob Kearney

THE squad were never going to get carried away by Saturday’s first Test win but the loss of Paul O’Connell for the rest of the series has really brought us back to earth.

Paul will be a huge loss to the tour. Everybody is aware the calibre of player he is, but is not just on the pitch that his presence will be missed but it is what he brings to the environment off the field and how the guys feed off him.

He is an inspirational character and that is not something that you get over time or can work on in the gym. Guys either have that or they don’t and he’ll be missed for that as much as anything.

He is staying here with the squad and we are yet to see what role he will play in the days to come, but one practical job that he will probably throw himself into will be around the lineout. Paulie is always meticulous around that area of the game, scouting the opposition and working on our own moves and I’d imagine that he will have an important role to play there.

He was in the stands for last night’s win over the Melbourne Rebels, a result that was important for those of us who had played in the disappointing defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra. After the Test win on Saturday, it kept the momentum flowing going into the second clash with the Wallabies.

Unlike the previous week when we had a number of new faces and limited preparation time, the backline had two or three sessions together and we went into the game with far more clarity with our starter moves. The conditions were easier to play in too.

To score five tries, not concede and get the win was satisfying, but we all know that the big event in Melbourne this week is the weekend’s second Test.

Missing out on selection for last weekend was disappointing, but that is all part of a Lions tour. It is important to buy into the fact that there will be lads who will be gutted every week and if it transpires that you’re one of them then you have a big job to stay positive and ensure that the atmosphere around the squad stays strong.

If 15 lads in a squad of 37 are negative and down in the dumps about not getting the nod, it will bring the other guys down. There’s an onus on guys not to do that, to put their own initial disappointment aside for the betterment of the guys playing, for the squad as a whole.

Leigh Halfpenny was the first man I went up to and congratulated when we found out the team last Thursday. When you’re in  a battle like that it is important to recognise when someone has done well and earned that jersey.

Watching from the stands, I felt that the Test match itself was somewhat strange. It wasn’t as quick or as physically intensive as I had expected.

There is another gear or two in our own performance and, despite being the better side and deserved winners, we couldn’t pull away from the Wallabies. We made hard work of it towards the end.

Australia’s last match was back in November and that is a long time not to play together and you can either be really sharp or a little bit lacking in the physical edge. It turned out to be a bit of the latter, but they will benefit from that.

I can empathise with how they must have felt when they lost so many backs, it was only last February in Rome that I was playing alongside Peter O’Mahony in a back three after we suffered a raft of injuries in our Six Nations defeat to Italy.

You feel like somebody is playing a practical joke on you, guys are dropping like flies. It is strange that one team can go through 80 minutes completely unscathed, while the other be obliterated by serious injuries.

Equally, you had to feel for Kurtley Beale when he slipped when kicking for the win. We all hoped he’d miss, but as a fellow professional you know how he feels.

Goal kicking isn’t an easy job, he came into the game as fourth choice kicker and wasn’t expected to kick at all. He’d had a really good game after coming on and we expect to see him this week, but he’ll be remembered for the missed kick and that’s the cruelty of the game even though James O’Connor missed his fair share too.

There was a bit of chat after the game about whether James Horwill might get cited. There were a lot of mixed opinions and he was lucky that he escaped without sanction but once the decision was made we had to move on.

Both teams will improve next week. Australia now have the taste of Test rugby and are getting back to match fitness, while any nerves associated with the first game will be gone. We will have learned an awful lot from playing that game and will be better this week.

Since the game, we’ve been debating whose try was better, George North’s or Israel Folau’s. They were both incredible scores and summed up the reality that wingers are becoming the best athletes in a team. They have the combination of size and bulk with power and speed and it is extraordinary.

It is nice to be based in Melbourne for the full week ahead of Saturday’s game. We have taken nine flights on this tour and have been moving every few days. That’s a lot of packing, travelling and moving around.

The day after a game everything is pretty chilled and relaxed. Sunday was about getting out for some lunch, a spot of coffee and a stroll around and today will be the same and this time we won’t have to pack up and move so we’re looking forward to some relaxing.

The guys who played last night can recover, while the team for Saturday will slowly start to pick things up and get the buzz around for the second Test.

There has been a lot of cinema trips and we went to see World War Z. A few lads were jumping out of their seats. I don’t like to name names, but Owen Farrell’s reactions to the scarier moments in particular were quite funny.

You’re limited in what you can get up to given the need to rest and recover and, with the pub off limits, the cinema is the next best thing.

News that Conor Murray has been voted the best looking member of the touring party has kept us going as well and he has come in for plenty of slagging as a result.

The atmosphere around the camp has been good and we’ll enjoy our down time before everything ramps up again for the big battle at the weekend.

The Series is on the line and everyone is aware of the importance of finishing the job.

Irish Independent

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