Leo Cullen does not believe Andy Farrell has brought down the curtain on Rob Kearney’s Ireland career.
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Kearney, who won the last of his 95 Ireland caps in the World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, was one of five players who played in Japan left out entirely.
Farrell’s squad will meet up over the weekend for what the coaching staff has called a ‘stocktake’, and it is understood that Kearney received a phone call earlier in the week to explain the decision.
It could be argued that Farrell knows more than enough about Kearney to leave him out of the weekend meeting, but that would not explain the inclusion of other veteran players — including the injured Johnny Sexton.
Since making his debut in 2007, Kearney has been a fixture for Ireland, and he would have hoped to play on next year, after signing a contract with the IRFU up to the end of the current season.
Kearney, linked with France during the period of negotiation, had reportedly sought a two-year deal, but with Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway, and Mike Haley offering alternative full-back options, he had to make do with a nine-month extension.
Now that trio, with Jacob Stockdale also recently wearing No 15 for Ulster, could stop him from reaching the 100 cap mark — but Cullen is not ruling it out entirely.
“That’s 12 years with Ireland so of course you’re surprised,” said Cullen, “I chatted with Rob at the start of the week and used Devin Toner as an example with him.
“Devin has been exceptional since he came back after missing out on the World Cup squad. He’s gone really well and that is what Rob must focus on now, getting the head down and training well with us, and he has to be fair.
“He’s disappointed obviously but now he needs to get his head around what is next for him.
“What can he control? He can’t control selection for Ireland. But he can control how he plays and he’s lucky in a way that he has got a chance straight away to go out and showcase what he can do.
I don’t see it as a door closing, I don’t think that is the attitude from the Irish coaches. I don’t get that sense.
“I get the feeling they are going to pick the best in the Six Nations in terms of who is going well in form.
“Places are there to be won on their own merit, I gather. I get that from reading in between the lines.
“They want to look at some other players. Others who were at the World Cup have missed out from the other provinces as well.
“It’s all about spreading the net a little wider I guess and it’s something we are always keen to do here at Leinster too as much as possible.
“When they’re housed under our nose, it’s a little easier for us.
“For the Irish coaches, I presume, they just want to get some exposure for players they might not have seen much of. But when it comes to selection they will know that there are plenty of guys who have experience in camp and if they have to be called upon they will know players can do a job.”
Kearney will get to show his skills against Ulster tonight, having been named in a much changed Leinster lineup. Centre Tommy O’Brien makes his senior debut, while Harry Byrne makes only a second start at out half.