Rob Kearney isn’t relishing the thought of watching Saturday’s Guinness PRO12 final but watch it he will, writes Brendan O’Brien.
Not every Irish player has had the stomach to watch local rivals competing for silverware. Numerous Leinster and Munster players have spoken in the past about how they avoided Heineken Cup finals when their near neighbours were involved.
Tales of trips to faraway places, or attendances at some barbecue or kid’s birthday party, on the days in question have abounded but Kearney feels everyone at Leinster needs to take in Munster’s meeting with Scarlets in their Aviva backyard.
“I won’t be there but, yeah, I will watch it and it’s important that everyone watches it,” he explained. “Watching Munster coming up to Dublin and filling the Aviva out — and more than likely winning the competition — is tough viewing. You need hurt to fuel things going forward. That’ll be a tough thing to watch but, if it helps us in the long run, then so be it.”
Kearney is already accustomed to a watching brief. The season just gone was filleted by injuries. He had long since clocked off by the time Scarlets raided the RDS late last week but the good news is that he is eight weeks into a 10-12 week rehab programme after surgery on a bicep injury.
He will be technically fit by the time Ireland play their first Test in Japan in mid-June but, while he spoke to Joe Schmidt just prior to the announcement of the Irish touring squad, his medical advisors weren’t keen for him to travel.
He reckons himself that he missed out by no more than a week or two on that and, while the Lions had to draft Shane Williams in from Japan and Tom Court from the beach in 2013, he isn’t expecting a call from Warren Gatland either.
“I’m fit but I’m not match fit so I’d imagine he would be going with guys who are on tour with their own countries rather than with someone who is back home. So, because it’s full-back as well, it’s only a specialist position. There are a lot of other guys there who can play that position too.”
Still, he’ll be keeping his phone on. “I may well even go on holiday in New Zealand,” he joked.
Kearney has toured New Zealand during the southern hemisphere winter before and, though he believes the tourists will be more competitive than their last time in-country back in 2005, he knows better than most the pressure the Lions will be under on and off the pitch.
“The good thing about this is that everyone understands how difficult it is going to be and sometimes that’s half the battle, when you realise just what the challenge is you’re up against. You can’t play New Zealand at their own game.
“At the moment the franchises are playing a different game to every other team in the Super 15 (sic). If they bring that into their international side they will be tough to beat. But if there is one team in the world that’s going to do it, it’s going to be a match-up from all four countries.”
As with Munster on Saturday, it won’t make for easy viewing. Kearney’s hope is that any of his own ‘what ifs’ recede the longer the tour goes on and he can engage with it purely as a fan. If anything, tuning in to Ireland’s two outings against Japan will be harder given the potential knock-on effect for him with Leinster and Ireland.
Past injuries have afforded him plenty of practice in coping with the sight of others trying that number 15 shirt on for size but it is still difficult to sit and watch when the likes of Joey Carbery audition in your role for club and country.
“It fuels your competitive edge. It gives you the shits a bit as well about your own future. But I have missed a lot of games throughout my career and there have always been really good guys who have gone in and played the position so you always have a fight on your hands.”
He starts again on June 22, when he reports for Leinster’s first day of pre-season, along with brother Dave who is close to a full recovery from ankle surgery after his own frustrating season.