Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Kearney hails Lions full-back rival

Rob Kearney admits he will struggle to gain the form required for the Lions tour

Ireland full-back Rob Kearney concedes he has slipped behind Wales' Leigh Halfpenny in their Lions duel after struggling to showcase his attacking skills in the RBS 6 Nations.

The Celtic rivals are expected to embark on the summer tour to Australia but it is Halfpenny who has a potentially unassailable lead in the race to win the number 15 jersey for the Test series.

"Leigh's goalkicking alone has made him the standout full-back of the Six Nations. Wales have won a huge amount of games with his kicking skills," Kearney said. "For me it's quite frustrating because receiving kicks was always a great way to get into games, get some ball and display my strengths."

The 24-year-old's goalkicking and successive man of the match displays against France and Italy have been instrumental in hauling Wales into title contention heading into the final weekend.

Kearney won three Lions caps in South Africa four years ago and is the man in possession, but could yet miss out on the tour altogether should coach Warren Gatland prefer Scotland's Stuart Hogg.

Events have conspired against the 2012 European player of the year, who has been playing in a team decimated by injury against opposition that have worked out it is best to keep the ball out of his hands.

"That's something I've definitely struggled with throughout this campaign," Kearney added. "It shows a little bit as well in terms of my own touches. It's a case of trying to not get too frustrated by it and trying to find other ways to get into the game, although that hasn't been helped by the conditions we've been playing in."

There are few more reliable full-backs than Kearney, whose displays in challenging weather conditions against England and France were exemplary. Saturday's clash with Italy presents a final chance to impress Gatland on the international stage, but the 26-year-old believes the Kiwi will look beyond the Six Nations to inform his opinion.

"Of course it crosses your mind that this weekend is the last major stage to impress Lions selectors, but selection will have been going on throughout the last year," he said. "Although a huge amount of emphasis has been put on the Six Nations, it's not the be-all and end-all.

"It's not the only shop window to stake your claim. It's important to recognise that when the team does well, individuals do well. Once you start trying to play as individuals, that's when the team suffers. Ultimately then the player will suffer."

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