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Johnny’s Return Adds A Huge Amount To The Team – Kearney

Johnny’s Return Adds A Huge Amount To The Team – Kearney

Ireland full-back Rob Kearney insists France will have their backs to the wall as they look to win only their third away RBS 6 Nations match under Philippe Saint-André – they won at Murrayfield in both 2012 and 2014.

France haven not bettered fourth place under their current head coach and while many see them as underdogs today, Rob Kearney knows the danger they pose. He was in a similar position with Ireland, where you can either sink or swim, and he knows les Bleus will bounce back.

“It would be nice if it (their poor form) stayed like that, wouldn’t it? It’s unlikely. Their backs are against the wall a little bit, from last year beating them at home and taking the Championship over there. So, I’m sure we will see a different France this week,” he said, previewing the sides’ clash at the Aviva Stadium.

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“I have of course (been in that position), and I think everyone has. One of two things happen. You either go into your shell and you don’t back your own ability, you’re lacking a bit of confidence, or you just drop the baggage and play rugby. The latter is probably a little bit more the French way to do it. Just ‘c’est la vie’. That’s what they’ll do.”

This evening’s game sees the return of Ireland’s regular out-half Jonathan Sexton and Kearney spoke about his own experience of coming back at Test level after a lengthy lay-off. Sexton has missed 12 weeks since suffering a concussion against Australia last November.

It came for Kearney back in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, with the Louth man explaining: “The last World Cup, before Australia in Eden Park, I played 80 minutes in nine months. It’s tough. It’s nerve racking. You doubt yourself. You doubt your body but everyone goes through it.

“Johnny will be fine. He’s got 14 other lads looking out for him. He’s a fantastic player and he gets the back-line going really well. I thought Keats (Ian Keatley) did a really good job last week for his first game coming in. He got us a very well-earned win away in Italy.

“We might not have played superb rugby but the scoreline (26-3) is really good. Johnny coming back in, he’s obviously a fantastic player. It will only add a huge amount of value to the team.”

There is a wealth of talent in the selected French back-line with half-backs Rory Kockott and Camille Lopez looking to set wingers Teddy Thomas and Yoann Huget, centres Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud and full-back Scott Spedding in motion.

They have the potential to excite, to run from anywhere, but as French teams are consistently ‘inconsistent’, the question remains what side will show up today. In dealing with the dangerous midfield combination of Bastareaud and Fofana, Kearney says Ireland’s inexperienced pairing of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw will need to step up to the challenge.

“Bastareaud is huge. He gets a turn of pace, up and running. It’s unlikely one man is going to stop him, so you are going to need more than one. I just hope the front line (of defence) can do that job and he doesn’t come crashing through! I have (felt the brunt of that) many, many times. It’s big.

“Of course you can’t (always stick three guys on him), especially when his partner is Wesley Fofana. There’s a lot of responsibility on the two centres to look out for Bastareaud and to manage him as best as possible.

“We need to look out for each other too, that if we are double-teaming one man, it means other guys have to work harder if they do use him as a decoy runner.”

Spedding, Bastareaud and Huget combined for 33 carries and 177 metres made in their opening round defeat of Scotland. Kearney made 65 metres against the Italians in Rome and believes Thomas and Spedding have brought a huge amount to this French side.

“Is he (Thomas) hard to analyse? He probably is. He’s just got a full array of footwork skills. He’s a dual-arm carrier. The important thing when you are left with Teddy Thomas one-on-one is you keep your feet moving because as soon as you start to plant, he’s gone.

“I think any man who can start ahead of Brice Dulin (at full-back) is doing something unbelievably well. Spedding is a big man. He’s got a good kicking game. He pops up a fair bit as first receiver for them.

“He’s deceptively strong. He’s got good distribution, he will bring in those two wingers, who are playing superb rugby at the moment themselves. He’s like the rest of them, another big threat,” he admitted ahead of his 59th Ireland appearance and 56th start.