Rob Kearney: A perfect performance is not about scoring tries, it's about not making mistakes
Ireland full-back has high praise for Joe Schmidt
SOMETIMES you spend so long with your feet on the ground the exhilaration of the sky can be divine.
What does it feel like when Rob Kearney scoffs at gravity, and makes a stranger of the ground, as he hangs there waiting for the pill to gather in his grasp?
"It's a great place to be," he says, quietly, as we sit, appropriately enough, far above the Dublin skyline in a hotel in Dublin's Docklands, buoyantly gulping the air far above the world below.
"If you're jumping higher than anyone else and you're first to the ball? It's great.
It's lonely if you've dropped a few and not had the best of days. By far, it can be the loneliest position on the field."
It is but temporary relief offered in the heavens; even though you remind him that the better days far outweigh the worst. He bangs the wooden table to scatter introspection.
Temporary, and all too brief, relief on the ground too. In public, all we hear about are critical video reviews, training drills coursed by the fear of error, a ceaseless quest for impossible perfection.
In private? There is some relief.
"That comes in the dressing-room, immediately after the game," says Kearney of a feeling that has happened now for 10 games in a row.
"The final whistle has gone. Everyone is wrecked. Out on their feet. Not much talking. There's just an unimaginable atmosphere. It's indescribable but it's the best feeling of the week.
"It is brief. There's a huge come down. And there's a huge element of relief in it."
And then? "Next job." The fourth leg of what, for those in the camp, remains an unmentionable quest for a Grand Slam. Too much work to be done.
"Joe picks out a dozen clips of things you've done wrong or done poorly and then finishes with two or three positive ones. And he says well done! Awesome! Because there's an unbelievable fine line there.
"That's what makes a good coach, someone who has the ability to constantly look for an improvement, point out bad things but still maintain a feel-good factor in a team."
Seeking perfection drives them, but not to distraction. There is no perfect performance.
"But you've got to decipher the best path to get as close to it as possible, too," he says.
"A perfect performance to me isn't scoring a couple of tries, a drop-goal and making a few linebreaks. For me, it's not making any mistakes."
Hence, Kearney's rating might have been "6 - solid all day." To outsiders, this denotes something concrete, grey, drab. To Kearney, it is a fingertip away from perfection.
"To me, solid is very good. You've caught every ball and you haven't given the opposition access five metres out, you've protected your corners really well. So if I see solid, I'm happy compared to how others perceive it."
He references Jack Nowell's first-half kick to deep, which found grass and forced Simon Zebo to run the ball out of play. It marked an unheralded watershed in the campaign.
"That was the deepest our pack had to defend a lineout in the Six Nations. Nobody outside sees that but it is huge for us. The back three have a lot to do with that, Kearney says.
"My over-riding feeling was efficient and clinical. That's what winning is. We play to win, coaches are paid to win, so are we. There are less tries being scored than ever before so we're not on our own there."
Half of Kearney's professional life has been under the tutelage of Schmidt; he now knows his coach's blanket does not smother, rather comforts.
"In some respects it's all I know. When you're on, you're on," he reflects. "Something we've done very well is the schedule. We come in on Sunday night at nine and leave on Tuesday at three, that's what? About 40 hours.
"So that's intense, you're ready to go, you're always on, you're always on guard, waiting for a question to be asked or something to happen.
"Then you have another 36 hours to chill. And that gap in the middle of the week is much needed. But when you're training, or doing videos or walk-throughs, yeah it's very intense. It's 100pc switched on, full mental application.
"You do have to mentally condition yourself and it is draining, it is tough. Sometimes it's an effort, to get up mentally and switch on again for this. But you know the results of it in the end because the margins are so tiny.
"So if that means being switched on for an extra five minutes in a Sunday night video session, you're going to do it. When you've had the results before, it makes it much easier."
The quest now switches to Cardiff.
"Wales will be sore after last year in Dublin, they came out a bit off that day so they'll be hurting.
"I don't see a huge amount different from them. We know what they're going to do but they're very effective at implementing it.
"It's harder to play against their defence. We know what's coming so it's just about being able to stop it. It's only easy to play against provided you're mentally switched on.
"As for us? I don't think our plan will change a huge amount."
Why should it?
Rob Kearney was presented with the new Audi A7 as part of the Ireland and Leinster full-back's continued partnership with Audi in Ireland in 2015 .