Lessons learned from 2016's softly-softly approach - Kearney
At the end of his first Six Nations as Ireland captain, Rory Best was asked to sum up what he had learned. The Ulster hooker reflected that because of the influx of new faces at the start of the campaign, the senior players had allowed their standards to drop and that he and the leadership group could not let that happen again.
Twelve months on, following wins over South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, Rob Kearney feels that lesson has been taken on board and the same mistake has not been made again.
In particular, the Louth man feels the intensity in training last week far surpassed that of a year ago as Joe Schmidt's men look to hit the ground running in Murrayfield on Saturday.
"Definitely, lessons have been learned from that," he said. "I do remember Rory saying that and it was with specific reference to the week before the Test, which would have been last week, and we trained really well last week.
"We got the intensity there from the off. I've been involved in campaigns where, because you've no Test at the end of the week, everyone just takes the foot off the gas a little bit and you're just doing enough to get by, whereas last week we got good work done and made some good gains to put us in a good position for this week.
"The youthful part of the squad are in really good form for their provinces. When they come in here, there's a lot expected of them.
"There are never excuses made for the young guys coming in to slacken off a little bit. It's important they bring exactly the same as they have for their provinces, and a little bit more because it's international."
Kearney concedes that he is arguably under more pressure than ever for the No 15 shirt, while established back-row figures like Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony are also feeling the heat.
Johnny Sexton is aiming to prove his fitness after his latest injury issues and has Paddy Jackson breathing down his neck, which means a host of Ireland's leadership corps have plenty on their mind while also looking to drive standards.
"The best way to drive standards is through your actions," Kearney reasoned. "It's not necessarily always having to talk and pipe up and bring the younger lads or the other lads with you. The best way I can drive standards is making sure I'm training as best I can and making as few errors on the day as possible."
Kearney comes into the Six Nations having been left on the bench for Leinster's final Champions Cup games, but while Leo Cullen's decision did not please him, he is comforted by the fact that he saw plenty of action nonetheless.
"It was frustrating," he said. "The difficult thing for me was I half expected it, you know, the team was going so well, the back three were playing out of their skin.
"That first week back for the Montpellier game I hadn't trained until the Monday so there was a bit of uncertainty about just how much I would be able to get through.
"Thankfully for me I came on at 45 minutes and 35 minutes in both games so I got a fair bit of game-time. Had it not been that case it probably would have been a lot more frustrating."
Kearney looks set to be restored to the Ireland No 15 shirt once again on Saturday and will hope to take that frustration out on Scotland.
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