Rob Kearney admits record loss to New Zealand puts the final seal on a disappointing campaign for Ireland
FULL-back Rob Kearney was left to reflect on a disappointing season for Ireland after they were hammered by New Zealand for the second time in their three-match series.
The positives of the narrow 22-19 defeat in the second Test were buried by heavy defeats either side of that, 42-10 at Eden Park and Saturday’s 60-0 crushing in Hamilton.
Ireland also finished third in the Six Nations earlier in the year, their only wins coming against Italy and Scotland, and Kearney admitted: "It probably hasn’t been that great a season for us.
"A couple of games could have gone our way; I look at Wales at home (21-23) and France away (17-17), and last week as well. All three of them went against us but that’s sport and we have to move on."
Kearney must wish his season could have finished on May 21. On that day, just 48 hours after his Leinster side had won the Heineken Cup, the full-back captured the European Player of the Year award.
His performance in the narrow loss in Christchurch, like the rest of his team-mates, was endeavour and fight personified. However, he was decidedly outclassed by his opposite number, Israel Dagg, in Hamilton.
He conceded that the lack of Irish consistency and a significant rise in class and output from the All Blacks combined for a defeat that now ranks as his country’s worst.
Kearney said: "We probably lacked five per cent of the intensity of last week and New Zealand upped it by five per cent as well.
"That 10 per cent difference in this game, where margins are so small, will count for a lot and will have a big reflection on the scoreboard, as it did."
Kearney admits his side’s failure to stop New Zealand’s offloads in the tackle left them doomed to defeat in the third Test.
Declan Kidney’s side were humiliated in the final match of their Antipodean series, with Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Cane scoring two apiece of the All Blacks’ nine tries.
Williams had been kept relatively quiet in the opening two games of the series but, with Chiefs team-mate Aaron Cruden serving up delightful flick passes and offloads, the 6ft 4in centre was a wrecking ball to Irish hopes of a close contest.
Kearney, though, who was also sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on in the first half, felt the hosts’ guile and handling skills were the key factor.
"They all offload in the tackle and that is the strength of their game," said Kearney. "I think that was our biggest weakness, as a team, that we didn’t stop their offloads.
"We know that against New Zealand you have to stop the offloads. We didn’t do it and they got a lot of tries from it."
The Irish backline were also overpowered by that of the All Blacks, though, with the point emphatically emphasised on 49 minutes when winger Hosea Gear outpaced Fergus McFadden down the left and paused to pole-axe Keith Earls before dragging the trailing McFadden over the tryline.
When asked what the main differences was between the two sides, Kearney responded, “It is the speed they play at, the intensity that they play at and sheer size as well.
"They are bigger than us. That is something we need to address as well. Are we built differently? I don’t know."
Of the injured Irish that did not make the tour, only Ulster’s Tommy Bowe can compare with the size and physical prowess of the New Zealanders.
The Irish Under-20s finished fifth at the Junior World Cup at the weekend but Kearney does not think that too many of that side should be instantly elevated to the national side for the November Series in Dublin.
"I think we have a pretty good system," he said. "There is a good transition moving from provincial rugby into international rugby.
"They’ve had a really impressive World Cup down in South Africa so I’m sure a lot of them will feature for their provinces next year. That seems to be the natural progression through."
Kearney added: "I’d be loath to suggest that they come out of the 20s World Cup right into the national set-up but I think that provincial rugby is the perfect stepping stone between those."