LEIGH HALFPENNY IS undoubtedly the form fullback of the Northern Hemisphere and Stuart Hogg looks a top prospect but it is a safe bet that Rob Kearney will be named in the Lions squad next month.
Teams have learned to keep the ball away from as many avenues as possible that Kearney is patrolling and he found himself confined to the role of a functional, rather than superhuman, fullback in the Six Nations.
Lions coach Warren Gatland is well aware of the Irishman’s talent and the Cooley native has enough credit in the bank, including a stunning Test Series against South Africa on the 200 Lions tour, to merit selection.
The fullback admits that nothing, regarding squad selection next month, is certain but he is confident that Brian O’Driscoll will get the call for his fourth Lions tour. Kearney told TheScore.ie:
Brian has been playing the game now for 13 or 14 years. I don’t think that he is going to be judged after one Six Nations. The coaches know exactly what Brian O’Driscoll can do so I’m sure he’ll be on the plane.”
There was no immediate word following the 22-15 defeat to Italy that O’Driscoll would be retiring at the season’s end but, from a Leinster and Ireland perspective, Kearney is hopeful that the centre will play on.
“Someone like Brian,” he said, “it would always be good to have him around. I think it is clear to see that he still has a huge amount to offer but it will be his decision. I’m sure he’ll make it over the course of the next month or so.
“Certainly, all his teammates feel as if he has still more to give.”
From a distance…
A contractual quirk for Ireland’s national rugby coach, a professional role, includes very regular meetings and match reviews with a five-man amateur board.
Speaking on Newstalk on Wednesday, former Ireland captain Keith Wood confessed that the situation of current coach Declan Kidney and his frequent get togethers with the National Team Review Group was hardly ideal.
Prospects of attracting a top-class international coach, who must justify team tactics and selections to an amateur, would not be great, Wood reasoned. If Joe Schmidt is truly top of the IRFU’s wishlist, he may have something to say about that antiquated process.
When asked if the senior Irish players were asked for their input ahead of Kidney’s meeting, yesterday, with the review group, Kearney responded, “I didn’t even know they were going in until you said it now.
“As players, our only job is to play at the weekend and train. We’d have no say in any of the review process or anything like that and, I think, rightly so.”
Kearney is the ambassador for the Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Skills Challenge 2013. For more on the event, visit www.learntogolf.ie
Ireland’s final day loss and fifth place finish in the Six Nations is now history but, for Kearney, the disappointment lingers.
“It is an emotional one and a bizarre one with all the injuries and how it finished up,” he said.
There was a moment in the first-half in Rome when Keith Earls had already departed and three Irish players – Luke Fitzgerald, Mike Ross and Luke Marshall – were receiving treatment from a harried medial staff. Kearney and his teammates must have been thinking ‘here we go again’.
“Of course,” he says. “That would effect the players I suppose, playing 60 minutes with a back-row forward on the wing. How your fullback and wingers work together is really important, they often cover positions for each other.
Subconsciously it is probably there and you’re feeling it. When you’re in that moment, 30 minutes gone in the game, three players off injured and another in the sin bin, there’s not much you can do about it.
It’s a challenging time on the field and you have to draw really close as a team.”
The fullback will hope that personal challenges this season will include Pro12 and Amlin Cup pursuits. Gatland and his coaching staff will be watching closely.