ROB KEARNEY IS starting to resemble the attacking backline dangerman of old and hopes he can continue his ‘upward curve’ to help Leinster to a league and cup double.
The fullback went airborne to score an excellent try, following a Jonny Sexton-Isa Nacewa crossfield kick move, last week. He had another effort incorrectly chalked off in the closing stages of his Leinster’s Amlin Challenge Cup Final victory over Stade Francais.
With Ulster in town this weekend, the Blues have a chance to win their first league trophy since 2008. This is Leinster’s fourth final in succession and the Magners/Rabo Cup has, thus far, proved elusive.
Kearney said the Leinster players, himself included, were guilty in the past of not giving the Pro12 Grand Final the focus it deserves. ‘It was pretty quiet’ on Friday night for the squad after they captured their European title. He said, “We made that mistake, over the last few years, of partying and taking our eye off the ball a little bit. We’re making a big emphasis now to really focus, switch on this week.
No disrespect to Stade but you’re not going to score first-phase tries against Ulster. That means two things – we’re going to have to scout and do things differently, and we’ll have to hold onto more ball. We didn’t have too much possession at the weekend, or build phases of play, so we’ll have to up our performance from that perspective.”
Leinster’s dominance over Ulster premeated to their emphatic Heineken Cup Final win over the northern province last season. This season, under Mark Anscombe, Ulster have mounted a sterner challenge, beating the Blues in Dublin for the first time since 1999.
Speaking to TheScore.ie following that 22-18 win at the RDS, Ulster forward Iain Henderson declared, “Growing up, I would have heard talk like ‘it’s going to be this year, it’s going to be this year’. There was a bit of chat about it but we made sure we went out and raised our intensity and that our game was the best it could be.”
Ian Madigan congratulates Paddy Jackson in March. (©INPHO/James Crombie)
“They’ve been the form side in the Rabo all season,” Kearney admitted, “and have a real powerful scrum. They’ve done a job on us twice this season, most recently in the RDS. That was a tough game. We put a huge amount of effort into that and they still came out on top.”
Ruan Pienaar is in top form at the moment; really bossing things. Their backline, their back three – from Payne, Tommy [Bowe], Gilroy and Trimble there – they can cause a lot of trouble too. They were unlucky in the Heineken Cup. They probably felt like they didn’t do themselves justice on the day.”
The Leinster backline featured Fergus McFadden and Ian Madigan in the midfield axis. Gordon D’Arcy is definitely out of contention but Brian O’Driscoll, says Kearney, is desperate to get back for Saturday’s tie. “Brian was hugely disappointed to miss last week so he is going to want to get out there,” he said.
The Louth native is happy that, after injury blighted the beginning of the season, he has approached optimum fitness and form.
“After injury,” he said, “it does take a while to get back to full form, full fitness, full everything. Six Nations was a bit frustrating, form wise, because, as a team, we were on the back foot and getting poor conditions to play in.
“I feel as though I’m slowly, gradually building every week so if I could just keep that upward curve I’ll be happy.”