Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Rob Kearney revels in new role

Rob Kearney
Rob Kearney

Rob Kearney was diplomacy personified when asked if he feels less inhibited playing under new Ireland coach Joe Schmidt than had been the case in Declan Kidney's reign.

But when one cut through the tact and tip-toeing, it was fairly obvious that the Leinster, Ireland and Lions number 15 is enjoying a loosening of the shackles which hallmarked Schmidt's ultra-cautious predecessor's approach.

Asked to field a potentially difficult question regarding the pair's interpretations of the role of a full-back, Kearney was wary in admitting: "There's so many big differences.

"Declan enjoyed the full-back to kick a lot of ball. The impression I got was that, when a full back got the ball, his preferred first option was more often than not to have a kick unless there was an obvious opening whereas, with Joe, he wants us to counter and have a go straight away."

And having confirmed what most Ireland supporters believed to be the case anyway, the Dundalk man conceded: "It is always difficult when your coaches have that frame of mind, because the game comes and it is you who makes that decision, if you have a go and it gets turned over then it is you who gets the rap, not the coach. That was the one glaring thing.

"Off set-piece, Joe (pictured) involves the full-back a little bit more – off some strike moves – and he makes sure that if we have got power plays of up to three or four phases that we have got as many guys as possible involved."

However when asked directly if he had been consciously cautious in the Kidney era, he replied: "No, because I would always back myself a little bit. I think you always have to go with your instincts on it and if you think it is on to go and have a crack, then do."

Nevertheless, there was further proof that he is more at ease now than in in the past with an add-on line which was: "I suppose it is probably a little bit more comforting knowing you have a coach who wants you to do that."

Pressed as to whether or not Kidney would have been unhappy with a player following his own instinct – 'backing yourself' in the vernacular – Kearney said: "Not if it goes right. If it goes wrong, probably a fraction."

Yesterday morning's Carton House training session was conducted in relentless rain. Kearney's take on that was: "It was rotten out there, the worst we've had in a long, long time."

But refusing to let that get him down he stressed the positives ahead of Sunday afternoon's Six Nations Championship Dublin date with Scotland.

"We're lucky in that the quality of the Aviva pitch seems to be the best of the six teams," he said.

And his verdict on the venues to which Ireland must travel in the series was: "Twickenham is looking good and maybe Paris hasn't been the best.

"Hopefully the weather is to improve this weekend, but we got some rotten weather last year with the France and England games, destroyed them, 9-6, penalties, no rugby and just ping-pong. The better the weather, the better for everyone."

The problem with lousy conditions for a footballing purist a la Kearney and a coach who aspires to nurturing high levels of skill and playing accordingly is the northern hemisphere weather in February/March.

Kearney agreed that trying to implement Schmidt's plan is not made any easier by the sort of weather in which he had just trained.

"The type of game-plan that he wants to play, while not high risk, does demand a high skill level," Kearney said. "In the wetter weather it is harder to execute those passes and what not, but he made one good point this morning when we were running through our plays and our game plan he said: 'If you can implement this sort of stuff in this weather then you will be very hard to beat when it's dry'.

"I suppose that's a mind-set that we tried to bring to it today, that if we can be the most accurate team, even when the weather is rubbish, then we will be in a good place."

He is confident that Schmidt's work on ensuring that every player knows exactly what his role is will be a plus in this season's Six Nations.

"Clarity is one of the main things that Joe tries to drive in terms of his game plan and if you have that sense of clarity you can bring all those other things to it, like your focus and your aggression and your accuracy. If you lose that sense of clarity the others are going to compromise a little bit," he said.

"I think as a team the first thing we focus on first and foremost is knowing our job roles and having that clarity. Because if you know that well then it makes it so much easier to implement all those other things."

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