Kearney targets RWC 2019 berth

Joe Schmidt may be flooding his squad with new faces but Rob Kearney is planning on bringing his wealth of experience to the party when Ireland appear at the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, writes Brendan O'Brien.

The record 38-3 defeat of South Africa last weekend showed just how much talent is bubbling up through the Irish provincial systems with Munster pair Andrew Conway and Darren Sweetnam and Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale among those to shine.

Add in Bundee Aki who was making his Test debut at the ripe old age of 27 and the winds of change are sweeping through the team’s Carton House camp, but Kearney has no intentions of vacating the stage for some time yet.

“I've learnt a lot over the years, that you can't look too far ahead,” said the 31-year old. “You can pick up injuries any time that can dictate your immediate future, but I'm massively hungry to play in this team and my ambitions are firmly on going to the next World Cup.”

Kearney’s status as first-choice full-back has indeed been threatened by a frustrating run of injuries and some losses of form this past few seasons, but the decision to exclude Simon Zebo on foot of his impending move to France will aid the Leinster man going forward.

His start two days ago was his first appearance in green since last March and he faced up to the Springboks on the back of just one run-out for Leinster, against Ulster, since his last return from injury.

Not ideal.

It was no wonder then to hear him talk on Monday afternoon about an elevated sense of nervousness approaching his 77th international cap and of the feeling that he had to repay the faith which Schmidt has continued to place in him.

“Yeah 100 per cent, that's probably part of the added pressure too … He's backing you to play at a particular level without having so much game time. So there's a fair bit of faith put in me in those instances and a fair bit of pressure on you to repay the coach.”

Kearney has had to adapt to the rigours of the modern game.

Every training session and game these days is bookmarked by 45-50 minutes of personal exercises and, whatever the details involved in such a routine, it is helping him keep pace with younger guns like Conway and Stockdale who combined with him in the back three in the Aviva.

“We had a few weeks together and we worked hard for the last two weeks and sometimes that first week when you come into camp and it's not Test week … I've been involved in camps gone by where you just take your foot off the pedal and don't do a huge amount of work.

“We actually worked pretty hard the week before last, a lot of combinations and we got a lot of work done. But they're a joy to play with and youth does that to guys, you could see the excitement in them, they were bubbling with energy.

“Sometimes you might go into games with wingers who you might not have played a huge amount with, you can worry a little bit just how you're going to work in the back field which is an area of huge importance to this team. But I thought the two of them did fantastic.

“Then Sweets when he came on was brilliant too.”

Meanwhile, Keith Earls has returned to Munster to rehab the hamstring injury that ruled him out of Saturday’s opening November Series win and will therefore play no part again this weekend coming when Fiji provide the opposition in Dublin.

John Ryan has taken the same road to Limerick after suffering a calf injury against the Springboks while Peter O’Mahony has remained in Irish camp having received a number of stitches to the ear injury which forced him off in the same game

The remainder of that matchday 23 emerged with the usual bumps and bruises but are expected to be fit to train this week.

Jordi Murphy and Sean Reidy have joined the squad following injuries to Tommy O'Donnell and Dan Leavy which ruled them out of selection last week while Jack Conan is back in full training after sitting out last week’s proceedings.

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