With the injury-enforced absences of Geordan Murphy and Girvan Dempsey, Ireland will take on Wales tomorrow without two world class full-backs. But Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll believes his Leinster team-mate Rob Kearney is a very able replacement in the position.
Since Kearney’s elevation to the Leinster senior squad in 2005, O’Driscoll has been impressed with the development the Louth man has made and feels he can certainly do a job for Ireland in his preferred position of full-back.
“I think Rob has matured massively over the last year as a player. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind me saying he was prone to the occasional error earlier on in his career but I think he’s become a very secure sort of player,” said the Ireland skipper, speaking earlier in the week.
“I think he’s been very good since he’s been given his opportunity on the wing (for Ireland) and I know that his favourite position is full-back so if he’s given the opportunity, I would think he would take it with both hands.
“I suppose in that position at the moment we’ve got an embarassment of riches with Lukey (Luke Fitzgerald) in place to step in as well if needs be. It’s not something that concerns me massively. ‘Kearns’ is a smart enough footballer.
“It’s a very different position, wing and full-back, but Kearns has played there plenty of times for Leinster and I’m sure he sees himself in future years as playing more regularly for Ireland at full-back. I certainly don’t have any fears for him switching across.”
O’Driscoll’s midfield break that led to Kearney’s try in the 34-13 win for Ireland over Scotland was one of the few times that he has been able to make his mark in attack in this year’s championship. Always defended against closely, the 29-year-old is determined to play a bigger role in the clash with Wales, whether that be in defence or attack.
He added: “Certainly in the Scottish game, looking back on it, perhaps I didn’t have as many touches as I would have liked. It was more of a defensive role that I found myself in.
“You’ve got to try and get yourself as active in a game as possible. On what moments you do have you’ve got to make sure they count as much as possible, whether they be defensive or attacking moments, kicking moments or organisational.
“It doesn’t matter what moments they are, you just have to make sure that whenever you’re called upon, you do your bit.”
One major difference to O’Driscoll’s game for most of this year’s championship is the fact that he is being partnered by Andrew Trimble in the centre. The Leinster-Ulster pairing was thrust together after Gordon D’Arcy injured his arm early on in the opening victory over Italy.
Explaining how the two have gelled together quickly, O’Driscoll admitted: “I was extremely used to Gordon. We’ve played for Leinster together and I don’t know how many times together for Ireland in the centre.
“You don’t have that long in competitions like this to click with a new partner because games come thick and fast. If you don’t perform well as a unit, you’ll find you won’t be a unit for much longer.
“I’ve really enjoyed the times I’ve spent playing with ‘Trims’ in the centre. And we’re getting to know each other’s games very well.
“On a daily level, every time we go out we learn something new about one another, just trying to talk to each other, just little things.
“We’re not trying to be complete world beaters at the minute, we just want to make sure that we get our parts right. Back-line play is hugely about units – it’s about half-backs, it’s about centres, it’s about back-threes.
“We’ve talked about it. We’ve studied in the analysis room and looked at things in training, trying to tweak little differences that we feel we can make to improve.”
O’Driscoll also had praise for his new centre partner’s defensive abilities and how the former Ulster Player of the Year has improved his passing and offloading skills.
“Trims has been a breath of fresh air, he’s been very good defensively – I’d say he’s been one of our best defenders.
“There’s a lot more to his game than people really know. He’s becoming much more of a distributor now,” he surmised.
“I’ve played against him plenty of times and he’s not a nice guy to put down in a tackle. That all put together is a nice, little package.”