Leinster coach Matt O’Connor, whose team is fifth in the Pro12 league with three games left and thus battling to reach the league play-offs, reiterated yesterday that he has had access to some of his top players for just 30% of the competition’s games.
That is borne out in the figures across the four provinces.
Of those internationals who have featured in seven of Ireland’s eight internationals this season – most first-choice players were rested in November for the Georgia game – only Tommy Bowe has played as much as eight league games.
Meanwhile, Munster’s Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony as well as Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip, Devin Toner and Kearney himself have appeared in just seven of their club side’s 19 ‘domestic’ games to date.
“I think there are a few changes that can be made but, as far as I’m aware, the IRFU aren’t overly happy with how it is at the moment too,” said Kearney who is the chairman of the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA).
“So, if Leinster aren’t happy, and the IRFU aren’t happy, you’d like to think there will be some amendments made.”
Leinster have been hit hardest for international absentees given the sheer volume of players who have contributed to Schmidt’s squads and Sean O’Brien admitted yesterday that such a drain had taken effect this campaign.
Most damaging, the flanker said, was the absence of leadership in the dressing-room when first-choice internationals, and even younger Test members such as Jack McGrath and Jordi Murphy, were not available.
“All the provinces are in a similar situation,” said O’Brien who has played just one Pro12 game this year due to injuries and Test duties. “I just don’t think we went about certain games in the right manner.
“The lads know that as well, but you can take out certain players who played (for Leinster) last year during the Six Nations and they were involved in the Six Nations this year.
“Then you have the younger crop coming in for them, so that’s what I mean by a bit of experience. Lads should learn from the bad days this year, to not let it happen again.”
Leinster can still salvage something from the season, unlikely as that is with eight points separating them and an Ospreys side in fourth, and another two points again standing between them and both Ulster and Munster.
It is Ulster, whom they face in Belfast this Friday, that the reigning champions are targeting given the run-in for Neil Doak’s side who meet Munster and leaders Glasgow in their last two regular season fixtures.
Leinster look in good shape, physically, despite the five-day turnaround.
Fergus McFadden misses out with the thumb injury he suffered in Marseille but, while Shane Jennings is adhering to return-of-play concussion protocols and Cian Healy and Marty Moore await scan results on shoulders, all three should be okay.
The only other concern may well be Ian Madigan’s state of mind.
It was his skip pass that was intercepted for the game-breaking try by Bryan Habana in last Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final loss to Toulon – even if Ben Te’o has taken some flak for his line of running.
“He’s disappointed, but there are a lot of things we did right and a lot of things we did wrong in the game,” said O’Connor. “It wasn’t that moment. That was one of five or six or seven moments that perhaps cost us the game. Thankfully, he’s pretty resilient mentally.
“He understands the dynamic in relation to kicking goals. The responsibility that comes with kicking goals and playing 10, 12 are massive anyway. He’s got to be better moving forward. He’s got to get back on the horse and be as good as he can as quick as he can.”