It’s hardly a surprise, but Rob Kearney won’t be handing over his jersey without a fight.
Back in November when Kearney was at top form in Ireland’s wins against South Africa and Argentina, few would have thought he’d be looking over his shoulder at a provincial teammate in January.
Step forward Jordan Larmour. It seemed every time he touched the ball in December and January, the calls for him to be brought into the Irish squad grew stronger and stronger.
The calls were answered, as Joe Schmidt handed the rookie his first senior international call-up, and with the countdown now on for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against France in Paris, the master was up before the media, with the apprentice hot on the lips of every reporter.
Asked about the presence of Larmour in the squad, his glittering form in recent weeks, and the prospect of being overtaken in the pecking order, Kearney chose the best option. Smother him with flattery, and put the pressure on somebody else.
“I just think he’s a flat out winger….. if only!”
It lightened the mood, before Kearney gave the gentle reminder that his position in the team hasn’t always been locked down. He may have been the first choice full back for more the best part of a decade now, but he’s seen of plenty of challenges along the way
“I suppose throughout my own career, I’ve always been in some pretty heavy battles with some 15s. I could list them; Felix (Jones), Lukey (Fitzgerald), Geordan Murphy, Girvan (Dempsey), Zeebs (Simon Zebo) over the last few years.
“I’ve been as impressed as anyone else of some of the stuff he’s (Larmour) done over the last couple of months, and it’s a good reward for him that he’s been called into the Six Nations squad,” he added on Larmour.
After a frustrating few months of injury, Kearney has found a consistent run of fitness since late October, playing a key role in Ireland’s November wins against the Springboks and the Pumas, while helping Leinster claim a top seed in the Champions Cup knockout stages.
Larmour would offer the element of surprise against a vulnerable French team, but 81 caps worth of experience can’t be sniffed at. Kearney is keen to use the stiff competition to his advantage, rather than sweating it out.
“When my body is in a good place, mentally I’m really enjoying my rugby and then I can start to put a bit of form together. When you’re in that position, when you have guys coming up behind you, it is good because it definitely spurs you on.”