Rob Kearney admits pressure for Ireland place is greater than ever
Rob Kearney has admitted he has never faced so much competition for his Ireland jersey as he does ahead of this year's RBS 6 Nations.
Boss Joe Schmidt drew a vintage showing out of the 30-year-old full-back when Ireland toppled New Zealand in Chicago in November by challenging the Leinster stalwart for a "big performance".
Kearney has now revealed having Simon Zebo, Tiernan O'Halloran and Jared Payne breathing down his neck has taken the fight for the 15 shirt to new levels.
Asked if the competition was now the most intense he had faced in his career, Kearney replied: "Yeah I think so, because there's four really viable options there.
"It's not in the slightest the first time I've been under pressure (though). I've been feeling like that for a long, long time, right back to Geordan (Murphy) and Girvan (Dempsey).
"Felix (Jones) went through a stage there, and now you've got Zeebs (Zebo) and you've got Tiernan (O'Halloran)."
Kearney excelled in Chicago as Ireland landed their maiden victory over New Zealand, the 40-29 triumph that stunned the back-to-back world champions.
The 72-cap full-back must now battle it out with Munster's Zebo and Connacht's O'Halloran to start Saturday's Six Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Ulster's versatile operator Payne might be missing with long-term kidney trouble, but Kearney still insists Ireland have never boasted such strength in depth.
"There was a huge amount of chat about Jared (Payne) last year, so it's not something new whatsoever," said Kearney.
"I'm fully aware of the huge level of competition that's there. It's really important now that with the depth there right across the whole board, I know if I'm not playing well I won't be there too long."