Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Kearney's sights firmly set on double

Rob Kearney feels he is hitting top form again

A week ago, Rob Kearney pitched up at Lions HQ to try on the endless array of clobber – from boxers to blazers – laid on for the select few bound for Australia this summer.

Yesterday, as many of his Lions colleagues limbered up in Carton House, Kearney was back in his working clothes, conscious that it was his Leinster uniform that effectively secured him the final nod from Warren Gatland as the Cooley man attempts to replicate his 2009 tour heroics.

Even though he, like many of his Irish colleagues, floundered in green during the unravelling Six Nations campaign, Lions coach Gatland always had Kearney marked down for a seat in first class when the squad depart for Hong Kong early next week.

It could be argued that Kearney was outplayed by most of his full-back opponents during the spring, particularly worrying when three of them – Leigh Halfpenny, Stuart Hogg and even Alex Goode – were rivals for the famous red jersey.

Ultimately, the 27-year-old just needed to rediscover his mojo in club colours and, barring some self-critical analysis from a player always questing for better, he has done just that during Leinster's march towards an improbable trophy double.

"Hopefully there's a good few weeks of rugby left in me yet," he says. "I feel as if I'm slowly starting to get there. It's all about timing when you have big tours like this at the end of the season.

"Once you get to June, guys' form in January and February is forgotten about. You have to be backing up at the right moment in time.

"So things are starting to go on an upward curve for me. Now it's just important for me to maintain that level of consistency and make sure things aren't being forced.

"The coaches have been watching since December. So every game you play is an addition of some sort.

"But as soon as you get overly focused on outside elements, like getting selected for other things, it can play up on you a little bit. That's when you can start losing your focus."

Nevertheless, he was enthused about his performance last Friday in the relatively untroubled addition of the Amlin Challenge Cup to the burgeoning Leinster roster of honours.

Kearney will be opposed by the gliding frame of Ulster's Jared Payne this weekend, the project player destined to become the most realistic challenger to the ex-Clongowes man's pre-eminence as Ireland full-back.

Kearney is just glad the Kiwi-born Payne does not qualify until November 2014. "He's a quality player," Kearney assents. "I have to be honest, I'm hoping his 15 months doesn't come too quickly because that's all he has left. I've no doubt that a player of his calibre is going to offer a huge amount to the Irish set-up when he does come in."

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