Rob Kearney's immediate reaction to Keith Earls ankle tap was pure experience 2 years ago

Rob Kearney's immediate reaction to Keith Earls ankle tap was pure experience

"I disagree. I don't go back to Rob Kearney I go forward to Rob Kearney. Rob Kearney goes forward."

That was Joe Schmidt's response when it was mentioned that, justifiably, he 'kept going back' to the Leinster fullback.

Heading into the 2018 Six Nations, Kearney still needed to convince a lot of people that he was worthy of the No.15 jersey. Simon Zebo had been prematurely exiled by the Irish management but still had, and will always have, staunch followers. Andrew Conway had impressed in the November internationals and Jordan Larmour had exploded onto the scene over the festive period.

Kearney is one of the most decorated players ever in Irish rugby history but he may never get comfortable distance from his detractors. Back in November, we wrote:

"No one player divides opinion like Kearney appears to, in recent years at least. Some claim he has been on the wane for the past few seasons while others see him as a reliable option at fullback and a player capable of upping his game when the occasion demands."

The 2018 Six Nations saw the 31-year-old having to prove himself all over again. And didn't he just?

Assured, counter-attacking, hard to put down, dogged and a calming presence in the back field. Kearney was everything his team and his coaches could have wanted. He was fierce in defence when he needed to be but 140 metres gained against Scotland and nine English defenders beaten proved he can still do damage untold on forward bursts.

Against England, on Saturday, the Louth native was a class act again. He spun out of and away from so many English tackle attempts and claimed all but one of the eight high balls that came his way. He also secured two crucial turnovers.

One of his finest contributions occurred just after half-time when he followed up on Keith Earls' last ditch ankle tap on Elliot Daly.

Credit: ITV

The eight minutes after the break where what Joe Schmidt described as his proudest feeling on a Grand Slam-clinching day. It was not only the fierce determination and hits made in defence, it was Ireland's clear-thinking at crucial moments.

As Daly hit the deck, Kearney swooped in. The winger was still a couple of feet shy of the sideline but the Ireland No.15 grabbed is arm and pinned it to the line before imploring Nigel Owens to take a look and awarded his side the lineout.

This is what 12 seasons at the very top of your game gets you.

Ireland got the lineout, exited their own 22 and had weathered Ireland's attempted comeback.

We are 18 months out from the 2019 World Cup and, fitness willing, Kearney will once again have to put up with his critics.

All he can do is what he did at Twickenham on Saturday, deliver time and time again.