Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

We'll get punished if we let focus slip: Kearney

In with a chance: Rob Kearney refused to rule France out as Six Nation title contenders
In with a chance: Rob Kearney refused to rule France out as Six Nation title contenders

Rob Kearney insists that Ireland's abysmal record in Paris has nothing to do with any sense of inferiority.

Indeed, the man who will wear 15 at Stade de France in Saturday night's joust for the 2014 RBS 6 Nations Championship was quite appalled at the suggestion yesterday afternoon at the team's Carton House camp.

Complex?

"No, absolutely not – not a complex," he replied when asked if Ireland are smitten by one.

"It's difficult to win over there because they're a good team. You need to be on top of your game, not just for 40 minutes but for a full 80.

"We were on top of our game for 40 minutes last time and then let it slip hugely. By no means a complex – it's just when you play quality teams you have to play your best rugby."

Given the Irish provinces' record when required to face French opponents in the Heineken Cup, it makes little sense that when it comes to the international arena the same players have found it so difficult to replicate club for.

Suggesting it "probably is a different experience" nevertheless, Kearney agreed.

"The provinces have done far better in France over the years than probably our national team has," he said. "The provinces have a much more dominant force in Europe than our national squad does in the Six Nations. I think for those two reasons it probably is a different feeling and the fact that it's a much bigger task."

On Saturday, however, Ireland are reckoned to have a real chance of redressing the balance a little. Of the three runners for the title – themselves, England and the French – they are in pole position by dint of their vastly superior for-against points differential.

"Yeah, for once, we're probably the right side of the points difference. It's a nice place to be, knowing that we just have to win the game, we don't have to force things," Kearney said.

"I think maybe we were a little bit guilty of that in the Italian game at times. Once we got into their 22 we built some really good phases and there was just that little bit of frantic play to our game, where we felt we had to score points."

Following last weekend's seven-try 46-7 rout of the Italians, Brian O'Driscoll described that match as having been a semi-final in that defeat would have left Ireland out of the running for the title on Saturday.

"Yeah, it's a final and the times you play in a final are exciting," Kearney said with no hint of apprehension.

"With your provinces you work maybe nine or 10 months to get to a final and there is this huge build up. We're very lucky that after four games we're in that situation where we can win some silverware.

"It's massively exciting of course, and with that comes a huge opportunity – but a huge disappointment if you let it slip."

When Ireland achieved the Grand Slam in 2009, the players' mood going into the final game against Wales in Cardiff was that they deserved to be champions. That conviction gave them confidence.

Asked if they believe themselves to be the best team in this year's championship, Kearney replied: "I think (it's) between ourselves and England. The fact that the two of us are up there at the top illustrates that we're the most consistent sides.

"England's defence has been superb and our attack is something that has improved a huge amount and that, combined with our defence... I think we deserve to be one and two."

Tellingly, he did not discount the French who are third and could yet be champions if they were to beat Ireland and England lost to Italy in Rome.

"They're the one team that you can't afford to switch off from," Kearney warned. "They have that ability... I keep saying that they can damage you from anywhere, but they can."

Highlighting that trait, he added: "I think there was one thing last year where there was one poor kick, poor kick-chase, the loose ball went, we tried to take a few hacks at it... and we're seven points down."

That said, he added: "I'm fully confident in our defensive structure. We've done so well this championship only leaking two tries, so I think that concentration is going to be massive.

"If an individual switches off even for a split second, they've got a lot of guys who can punish you."

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