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Ireland v New Zealand: Rob Kearney out to do double and avenge a black day

Ireland v New Zealand, Guinness Series: Aviva Stadium, Saturday, 5.30pm

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 17/11/2016

History boys: Rob Kearney celebrates Ireland’s historic victory over the All Blacks in Chicago earlier this month
History boys: Rob Kearney celebrates Ireland’s historic victory over the All Blacks in Chicago earlier this month

Lows, agonising near misses and, now, an unmatchable high. As one of Joe Schmidt's senior men, Rob Kearney has gone through the full gamut of emotions againt the All Blacks, knowing all too well what happens when you, as his coach said this week, poke the bear like Ireland did with their historic first victory in the fixture two weekends ago.

Back in 2012, the elder Kearney brother was in the side for the 60-0 defeat in Christchurch, a result that came just seven days after Ireland had matched the World champs blow for blow for 79 minutes only to lose 22-19 thanks to Dan Carter's drop goal at the death.

Memories of that occasion are far too fresh to ever believe Steve Hansen's side won't be out to make a statement back in Dublin on Saturday.

"All I remember in that game is constantly being under our sticks," he recalled. "There was a try every few minutes at least. That was a tough night.

"I remember Romain Poite sin-binned me, it wasn't a yellow card now, but I remember thinking, 'Jeez, I'd be happy enough just to stay here for the rest of the game'.

"It was an awful night and it just shows (what happens) if you poke the bear. We came really close to them in Christchurch, a game we probably should have closed out.

"There was a backlash then and there'll be another one this week."

After that first win in 111 years of trying, these are undoubtedly changed times for Ireland, but so too for Kearney.

Having been a mainstay in green for years, he feared for his place throughout that week in Chicago amid calls for Jared Payne to assume his full-back role.

Schmidt kept the faith, however, watching on as it was rewarded and then some with a superb performance.

"It was probably a difficult enough week," he said candidly. "It was the first time in a while where my selection was under doubt and I wasn't sure, so you're grateful of the opportunity, but at the same time you know that you don't have too many more chances either.

"There was a fair bit of pressure on me. Personal pressure, but then there was outside pressure too, which you try not to let affect you too much, but it is there and it's something that you know is there.

"It was my own choice to try and ignore it as best I could. For me now, it's about looking forward and making sure that I back it up. It's no good having one good game and coming down the following week and having a poor one."

And so he'll look to repeat the trick against the same opposition this weekend with both he and his team-mates in a confident frame of mind.

"I never got too low during the tough times and it is important now that you don't get too high on the other side.

"Listen, it is another game under my belt. Yes, there is a little confidence back. But, I need to back it up. The onus is on me to do that. You take a huge amount of encouragement.

"Before we always believed we could beat them and, if we were on our day, we could match them. But now we know. There is a difference.

"You do have a huge amount of belief, but you can never categorically say 100%. Now, we know we can because we've done it."

History made and a new narrative established, but would it be diminished if the All Blacks produce one of their storied counter-punches on Saturday?

"In the present moment, it probably would," nods Kearney.

"The fact that we've beaten them once, we've gotten the monkey off our back for the history books and for every other Irish team that plays them.

"They will take the field knowing that it has been done.

"In three or four weeks, when we reflect on this block of games, what happens on Saturday will play a fair bit in determining just how good an Autumn it was."

And while the All Blacks were the model of consistency during the Rugby Championship, naturally given that they came into Solider Field having won 18 in a row, this week, for the first time in recent months, there is some genuine intrigue surrounding which side will turn up.

While, without taking any shine from the Ireland victory, those wearing the silver fern were notably under par in Chicago, Kearney knows that there is noticeable room for improvement.

"It's really important that we're honest about where we were too," he continued, in no mood to sugarcoat.

"They played pretty poorly, albeit we didn't give them a huge amount of ball and we put them under pressure and forced some errors.

"It wasn't the New Zealand that we had been used to seeing throughout the Rugby Championship.

"Their lineout was poor. Some of their handling was pretty poor. They conceded five tries in the whole Championship and we score five against them."

But he warned: "There were times when we could have done things a hell of a lot better."

Given the improvement anticipated in the opposition, Ireland may well have to do things better if the euphoria of Chicago is to be repeated on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph

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