Kearney can make the difference, claims Blanco

FRANCE legend Serge Blanco believes Ireland full-back Rob Kearney could be the key between the two sides at the Stade de France on Saturday, rating the 23-year-old as one of the best players in the world.

Kearney endured a horror day at the office against Italy at Croke Park last weekend, with this error leading to the visitors’ only try of the game just before half time.

But ex-Biarritz fullback Blanco – who won 93 caps for Les Blues over 18 years – is a huge admirer of the Louth native and is positive that he will bounce back for Ireland’s visit to Paris.

“As a former full-back myself I think that Kearney has to be one of the most impressive players to come along for a long while,” he declared.

“Rugby has changed so much since my playing days, and professionalism has brought about a huge amount of alterations to the way the game is played.

“And while the positions on the field have become far more specialised, some things have stayed the same.

“Kearney excels because he’s incredibly strong under the high ball and has a huge boot that can punish teams.”

However the Venezuelan-born Frenchman, generally acknowledged as one of the greatest 15s in the history of the game, believes Kearney brings much more to the Irish back-line than just an added security under the high ball.

He is convinced that one of the biggest weapons in Kearney’s arsenal is his ability to counterattack from deep – a somewhat underused facet of his game that Declan Kidney’s men would do well to harness at the Stade de France.

Blanco added: “Kearney is a far more versatile player than a lot of other full-backs and he has the ability to get involved in other aspects of the game from an offensive point of view.

“These days I think it’s harder for individuals to stand out as the team performance tends to be the most important thing. But Kearney is one of a few players who I’d say is capable of changing the course of a match on his own. That’s what makes him one of the best players in the world.”

With the World Cup just 18 months away, the 51 year-old believes Saturday’s clash will prove to be an interesting barometer for coaches Kidney and Marc Lièvremont.

“This match will be important because Ireland are a really strong team at the moment and it will tell us an awful lot about where these two teams are in terms of building towards the World Cup.

“Obviously Ireland were good enough to win the Grand Slam last year, and you’d have to say that they’ve a very good chance of retaining the Six Nations title this year with the team that they have.”

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