Rob Kearney vs. Jordan Larmour could be the battle of this World Cup year 8 months ago

Rob Kearney vs. Jordan Larmour could be the battle of this World Cup year

The best thing about having a strong team is that is creates strong debates around selection.

People will argue about debate regardless, even if a team has had an awful run of form, like should a right-back start on the right-wing, but when you have a great team it's easier to make cases for alternatives.

For instance, should Sean Cronin start ahead of Rory Best for Ireland?

Should Iain Henderson or Tadhg Beirne start ahead of Devin Toner?

Should Dan Leavy or Josh van der Flier consistently start ahead of Sean O'Brien?

What two players should start out of Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose?

There's no shortage of selection debates when it comes to the national team but Rob Kearney's place at full-back might be the most intriguing of them all.

Here we have a player in Kearney entering the twilight of his career but still managing to hold onto his spot, for the most part, amid a sea of very worthy challengers.

The 33-year-old was dropped for Ireland's Six Nations opener against England last month but returned to win his place back in the side for the remainder of the tournament and ultimately kept his place in the team.

However, one of the players he's managed to keep at bay has been Jordan Larmour, arguably the most electrifying player in Irish Rugby since Brian O'Driscoll.

Kearney has done well to stave off the challenge of Larmour thus far but the prodigious 21-year-old may finally have usurped him from the Leinster team after he was named at full-back for Leinster's Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster on Saturday.

Rob Kearney

This isn't the Dragons away or Zebre at home, this is a really meaningful game for Leinster against serious opposition.

Kearney has generally thrived in this type of game over the years but this could be a sign that the guard is about to change as it did so quickly for Gordon D'Arcy, Ronan O'Gara in his battle with Johnny Sexton and Donncha O'Callaghan during the latter stages of their respective careers.

There comes a point in an athlete's career where Father Time ultimately gets the better of them, and while it does not appear that Kearney has reached that stage yet, particularly given his performance against Scotland last month, he will not want to open the door to Larmour who has been electric for Leinster this season.

The numbers are also favourable towards the St. Andrews graduate.

Larmour has beaten one defender for every 3.19 carries he's made this season while Kearney registers one defender beaten per 4.6 carries.

He has made 6.21 metres per carry compared to Kearney's 4.95 metres per carry.

He has scored four tries compared to Kearney who has yet to cross the line this season.

The statistics confirm what we can see on tape, that Larmour is the younger, more dynamic player, but Kearney's strengths are often not supported by the numbers.

How can you quantify statistics like field position, reading play, strength under the high ball?

Kearney's supporters will point to his performance against New Zealand as proof that he should still start when fit while Larmour improved his stock against France after he struggled at times in his previous start for Ireland against Argentina.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen pointed to his Pool stage performance against Toulouse earlier this season as reason for optimism and whatever concerns fans have over his grasp of some of the finer intricacies of the position, it has to be qualified by the fact that he is still just 21 and continuing to learn his role.

But the talent is there. It's been there ever since he broke into the Leinster squad and his highlight reel has already cleared the five minute bar and he hasn't even finished his second full season yet.

What's interesting from an Irish perspective is that Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has backed Kearney through every storm he has faced but if a situation occurs where Larmour supplants him with Leinster, which, we have seen Cullen go against Schmidt's judgement before with the Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne scenario last season, it will make it very intriguing to see just how much faith Schmidt has in one of his most trusted players.

Kearney has bounced back before, most recently against Scotland, where he was one of Ireland's best in a rather dim display in Edinburgh, but the door has now been opened by Cullen to Larmour, and much like his play on the field, if he spots a gap, that might be it, it might just stay open.