Rob Kearney’s most recent outing for Ireland was last March’s disappointing 22-15 Six Nations defeat to Italy. Roll on eight months and the hurt still remains, but the Louth native feels there is much to look forward to as Joe Schmidt’s coaching reign begins against Samoa.
As he prepares to resume at full-back for Ireland this weekend, Rob Kearney said: “The last game I played for Ireland was a pretty miserable day out in Rome and you never forget about that.
“But I think, at the same time, it’s important that you recognise there is a new feel to the Irish team and a new look, new coaching staff and it’s about trying to maybe look forward a little bit more but also remembering and hanging on to a little bit of hurt that we have from last year’s Six Nations.”
Having played for three seasons under Joe Schmidt at Leinster, Kearney believes that the New Zealander’s strengths which brought so much success to the province can now be replicated at international level.
“One of Joe’s strengths was always that regardless of who you are, your standing, or how many caps you have for any particular team, he treated everyone the same.
“He has brought that exact template to the national side now, so I can safely say that no guys from any provinces are getting any different treatment.
“The thing for Joe is I think he has had 127 days as Ireland coach before his first game. Players are a little bit lucky. We’ve got games every seven days pretty much. Obviously it is nice to get back in the green jersey.”
Kearney is joined in the starting back-line by Leinster team-mates Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy. There is an obvious familiarity for them with Schmidt who, according to the 2013 Lion, has been keen to perfect the small things in training ahead of the GUINNESS Series.
“There hasn’t been a huge amount of emphasis put on that back-line play. We have maybe five or six moves that we know inside out and we stick to those on the day.
“The coaches haven’t thrown huge amounts of new material at us, so it has just been about perfecting the ones that we do have.”
Another Leinster colleague, Jamie Heaslip, stands in as captain this weekend for Paul O’Connell. Kearney reckons the men in green are fortunate to have such quality leaders in the current squad, including former captains Brian O’Driscoll and Rory Best and summer tour skipper Peter O’Mahony.
“He (O’Connell) is a fantastic leader. We are very lucky in this squad there are a lot of guys across the board who could lead the team and everyone is aware of Paul’s leadership qualities,” he explained.
“They are quite outstanding and we are very lucky to have some vice-captains, namely Jamie this week who is able to step in and if Paulie can step off the bench I’m sure he will add a huge amount.”
With Australia and New Zealand to follow over the next two weeks, Kearney will be keen to make his mark against the Samoans and cement his starting position.
“A lot can happen in a few days after 80 minutes. You can suddenly become not one of the best XV. I think it is pretty standard. Guys know what is expected of us.
“We are aware it can be pretty fickle the higher the level you go up, so I think guys have a responsibility this weekend to make sure they do their best to hold onto the jersey for the following week.
“It is very much about performances, these few weeks. Obviously getting a few wins but making sure we can play a brand of rugby that people expect from this team and we start to fulfil our potential a little bit more unlike the last year or so.”