"The old boy's still got it" - Rob Kearney delivers timely reminder of timeless class
"Myself and Scott Fardy talked up Rob Kearney during the week and he delivered. The old boy's still got it."
Ireland's final World Cup warm-up match against Wales was the comfort blanket we all needed. No-one from the matchday squad delivered less than a 6/10 performance and there were plenty of 8 and 9s.
From the lows of Twickenham to the redemption in Cardiff and the follow-up win over the Welsh without the ballyhoo but plenty of bonhomie for those in attendance.
If you were an Irish fan at the Aviva Stadium, on Saturday, you left thinking that maybe these lads do have a chance after all. James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Conor Murray all had fine games and the rest were not far off.
You started to get a crystallised sense of the starting XV Joe Schmidt will go with against Scotland in the World Cup opener. After Saturday, most of the nation were seeing Rob Kearney there in the No.15 jersey.
The performances of the Irish backline, with Kearney keeping house, was discussed by James Lowe and the gang at Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby and all agreed the Leinster fullback has locked down his starting position for Yokohama on Sunday, September 22.
Kearney was one of the senior stars to miss out on the first World Cup warm-up, against Italy, in early August. His presence in the back-field [below] prevented Wales from scoring a try that mirrored Carlo Canna's in many ways.
Ireland were sucked in at the set-piece (a scrum on the 22) and Wales scrum-half Tomos Williams feigned to pass right to Leigh Halfpenny. George North shaped to take a pass then bolted straight ahead as Halfpenny grubber-kicked into the corner.
The ease at which Kearney stopped in his tracks and shot back over before sliding to prevent the try immediately settled his teammates, and the home fans.
The 33-year-old then opened the scoring, on 21 minutes, when he went on the outside of Jonathan Davies and got over for his first Test try in 47 months. He scored a couple of tries for Leinster at the tail-end of the 2018/19 season so it is good to see, as Lowe notes, that there is attacking life in 'the old boy'.
Kearney was on hand, eight minutes later, to prevent another Welsh try. Ireland went to James Ryan at the middle of their lineout and popped down to Conor Murray.
Dan Biggar had already opted to shoot up and Sexton, committed to his pass, threw an intercept that almost led to a try from the replacement outhalf. Robbie Henshaw took much of the credit for the chase back and tackle but Kearney slid in, again, to prevent Biggar from squirming to get the ball down.
Biggar, to his eternal credit, knew Kearney and Henshaw had his number and told the referee that it was no try.
These were the highlights of a rock solid defensive outing from Kearney and one in which he was brilliant in the air and was carrying to burst by defenders, rather than bracing and preparing to be stopped and present clean ball.
From the outside, looking in, Kearney was not one of the main culprits of the Twickenham catastrophe but, we understand, Joe Schmidt was unhappy with several aspects of his game in the stern review session that followed.
Andrew Conway, Jordan Larmour and Will Addison were all pressing hard but Kearney is heading into his 12th international season [out of 13 played] as the man in possession of the 15 jersey.
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The latest episodes sees Leinster star James Lowe join Barry Murphy, Andrew Trimble and Jerry Flannery to discuss his time in Ireland, Leinster teammate Josh van der Flier and how he reckons Joe Schmidt's men will fare at the World Cup.