Friday 23 August 2019

'To play at three World Cups has always been a big goal'

Rob Kearney knows the kind of magic that his Leinster team-mate Jordan Larmour can conjure up, but hopes he has plenty of credit in the bank with Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Rob Kearney knows the kind of magic that his Leinster team-mate Jordan Larmour can conjure up, but hopes he has plenty of credit in the bank with Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

While the majority of us are still catching our breath after another long season, the Ireland squad have already got a gruelling week of pre-season under their belts with preparations for Japan beginning to really ramp up.

There were times since the last World Cup that Rob Kearney wondered if he would be part of that select training group who reported for duty on day one in mid-June.

With his body acting up and time not exactly on his side, Kearney has once again proven the doubters wrong by not only regaining his fitness, but crucially his form as well.

Such has been that form, that if Ireland were to play Scotland in their opener tomorrow, Kearney would almost certainly start at full-back.

That is a testament to the 33-year-old's resilience, because as the younger rivals continue to snap at his heels, Kearney is invariably picked to play in the big games.

"The environment in Leinster, that competitive nature, has single handedly kept me going over the last couple of years," Kearney tells the Irish Independent.

"It has been a huge driver for me to try and stay at a high level.

"To play at three World Cups has always been a big goal for me. This year and last year have been pretty good for me, injury-profile wise. Certainly an awful lot better than the two years prior to that.

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"We'll play games in August and every player will be worried about picking up a knock in those. They're tough, they're tricky ones. There is a huge amount of luck in it too. The chances are someone will get hurt in August and miss out."

Playing at three World Cups would be a remarkable achievement for Kearney who recently fought his corner with the IRFU to extend his current deal until the end of next season.

The prospect of that third World Cup being in Japan has also helped motivate a player who, like several of his team-mates, has never been to that part of the world before.

"First and foremost, I need to get on the plane but the prospect of a World Cup in Japan is really cool," Kearney says. "To visit such a different culture, different people, it's much more exciting than going to say England or Wales for a World Cup."

The naysayers will continue to argue that Kearney doesn't offer enough of an attacking threat from full-back, but to make that argument means that you are ignoring what he brings to the team.

The sense of calm in the back-field should not be underestimated, nor should his communication to those around him. That, however, is not to say that Kearney isn't aware of the criticism aimed at him and since Stuart Lancaster arrived in Leinster he has placed a big emphasis on improving his attacking prowess.

Against Glasgow in April, Kearney ended a 53-game run for club and country without a try. He admits it was "a small monkey off the back".

"It was a long while," he smiles. "In that period, not that scoring tries against lesser teams is easier, but I was just playing European games, internationals.

Striker

"It was nice to score a couple of tries but it wasn't something that was weighing me down. It wasn't like a striker in soccer. It's definitely been the biggest pressure that Stuart has put on me, in terms of really trying to develop that side of my game.

"The way Sarries play is ultimately how he wants us to play. Having a really good second playmaker. Alex Goode is obviously superb at that. It helps that he plays a huge amount of rugby at 10, so it's much more natural and comfortable to him.

"I have found it easier in training. It's just trying to make that next step now to be more comfortable and confident to actually do it in games.

"Stuart has been a very important part of our success over the last few years. For me, at 33, he is still pushing me every week to try and get better at something. That has been massive for me.

"There are probably lots of guys who, when they hit their thirties, are just thinking about maintenance and staying at the level they were at."

Kearney sees the kind of magic that someone like Jordan Larmour conjures up every day in training and while he recognises his undoubted attacking threat, the elder statesman knows that he has plenty of credit in the bank of Joe Schmidt.

Ireland will finally get a chance to properly analyse what went wrong against Wales as several players have admitted that the Six Nations defeat has lingered. Nevertheless, Kearney is adamant that confidence is high within the squad and despite the inconsistent form this season, Ireland will head to the World Cup quietly confident of creating history.

"We have beaten every team in the world," Kearney adds. "We went to the last World Cup and it was always very much saying, 'On our day, we feel as if we can beat any team in the world'. But that narrative has changed quite significantly because we have beaten every team in the world.

"Expectations have probably come down a little bit after the Six Nations. Maybe it is a blessing in disguise.

"Last year we won the Grand Slam, we won a tour Down Under, we beat New Zealand, but we were always very clear in saying that the margins are so small. We are certainly going over there with some pretty big hopes."

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