Kearney: Defensively Ireland are a different animal

Two years? It feels like a lifetime.

Almost half – 11, to be exact — of the 23 Ireland players who featured in the World Cup loss to Argentina in 2015 will be absent when the sides meet this Saturday in Dublin and for the first time since that day in Cardiff.

Different teams, different times. The relevance of that 43-20 loss continues to reverberate through the Irish professional game given it played at least some part in Joe Schmidt extending his stint in charge and in the coach’s determination to reach the next World Cup with a deeper squad of players.

That aside, it’s all but an irrelevance this week.

Every Irish player prodded for a response has admitted no more than the fact that it was a bad, bad day at the office but not one they fixate on. Even Martin Landajo, the Puma scrum-half that day and this week, has expressed surprise that it remains a talking point.

And it isn’t just faces that have changed. Rugby has moved on again, new rules and new thinking continuing the evolution of the game, and Ireland’s progression has been aided in no small way by the appointment of Andy Farrell as defence coach.

It was their porousness without the ball that cost Ireland in the Welsh capital 25 months ago and Rob Kearney is of the view that the side’s approach to that side of the game was on the verge of a metamorphosis regardless of that trauma.

“That was Les Kiss’s last game in charge (of the defence) before he went to Ulster. We were on the lookout for a new defensive coach and then Andy came in, I think it was the summer tour just after that, so obviously he brought his own systems and learnings he’s had.

“So it was probably a big transition for us in our defensive make-up after that World Cup.”

Lessons are a daily event in this game. The latest is just five days old thanks to the trouble Ireland had in putting Fiji away in the second of their November internationals in Dublin last week.

“One of the areas we pride ourselves in is our breakdown,” said the Ireland full-back. “That was excellent the week before against South Africa. We just let ourselves down a little bit and if you give the opposition pretty quick ball your defence is going to suffer a little bit from that too.

“So we got caught a little bit narrow at times, which was a knock-on effect from some poor breakdown work, whether that was putting too many bodies in or getting blown off our own ball a few times. It was probably a big area for us.”

For Kearney, the Springbok game was a significant step up this season given another injury-interrupted few months which restricted him to just three outings for Leinster and none of them coming in the Champions Cup pool stages.

“It was nice to finish a game and not get hurt and be able to back up the following Tuesday on the training field and get through another week’s training,” he explained. “I said already preparation wasn’t ideal for that game.

“But the important thing for me now is to make sure I’m keeping my body in good shape and getting as much game-time as I can. The more games I play, the more comfortable and confident I feel to keep improving my performances.”



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