Kearney keen to make up for lost time

Kearney keen to make up for lost time
Rob Kearney tackles the weights during a gym session yesterday in Shizuoka as he eyes a return to the Ireland side for the clash with Japan this weekend. Picture: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

Rob Kearney could have played the team card. He could have insisted there are never any mixed feelings when he sits in the stands and looks on as someone else gets to slip the No.15 jersey over their shoulders and stand for Ireland’s Call.

He’s been through that more times than he would care to remember.

Injuries are an occupational hazard and he’s had more than his fair share this last few years. The latest hit less than five minutes into a training session in Chiba last Sunday week, days after Ireland’s arrival in Japan.

It wasn’t anything critical or crippling, just enough of a niggle to compromise him early on in the week and leave Joe Schmidt with no option but to invest in Jordan Larmour, who started for most of the rehearsals and, ultimately, for their Pool A opener against Scotland.

“Yeah, it’s not nice but I’ve had to endure that sort of feeling a lot over the last few years. It is tough but at the same time you have to be happy for them (the replacement) as well,” said Kearney.

“It was a big game for Jordan. It was a big opportunity, but it was a big challenge for him as well and he passed it with flying colours,” said the veteran. “He’s such a good young lad and you can’t help but be very pleased for him.”

Kearney, as he has admitted in the past, explained it as a case of wishing your teammate well, just not too well. Fair play to him for his honesty. The pair chatted the night before the Scotland game but Kearney left the youngster to it on game day. Larmour knew what he was doing.

He showed as much in Yokohama with a competent performance in defence and in the air and with that trademark attacking intent.

It was something of a relief for Ireland given the paucity of clear and obvious challengers to Kearney in recent years.

There have been times when many have called for Kearney’s head. Too old, we have heard. Too slow. Not enough of a danger with ball in hand.

He’s heard it all before too but the 33-year old has proven his worth and the doubters wrong time and again in the past.

His performance against Wales in the final warm-up game earlier this month was exceptional and adorned with a first try for his country in four years.

All the more frustrating, then, that he should have come a cropper just as he was hitting his stride.

“We had a good pre-season. We trained really hard and the one thing about those warm-up games is that you want to showcase the work that you’ve put in over the last few months. Sometimes it doesn’t go like that but there were a few opportunities for me in the Wales game to do that.

“It will be a different challenge now this week given the opposition and the stakes are a bit higher, the heat and humidity and all those things come into play.

"When the boys came off the field at the weekend I was just so jealous of them that they’ve got that first one under the belt.”

This is Kearney’s third World Cup but the excitement he feels is no less for that and the prospect of facing the tournament hosts this weekend only accentuates that sense of anticipation now he is fully fit.

There’s a buzz about Ireland after their cakewalk against Scotland but Kearney believes Japan will be a more troublesome opponent given how poor their Celtic cousins proved to be.

He made the point that we are only a handful of weeks removed from Twickenham where Ireland took a trouncing of their own.

The key now is to improve incrementally over the course of their stay in Japan.

Do that, he feels, and Ireland won’t be far removed from the back end of this tournament. That starts with this next assignment against a side that has described it as their ‘cup final’.

It’s funny that they said that because that’s what exactly what we said today in our own team meeting: That this is their cup final.

“So we’re certainly under no illusions as to what’s coming and, this being the game that they’ve been eyeing up, they’ll have huge support.

“It will be guns blazing. It should be a fantastic occasion.”

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