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Tuesday 22 August 2017

Rob Kearney: I've plenty in tank

Leinster and Ireland full-back wants more silverware as he approaches 30 on the eve of Munster's trip to Dublin

Rob Kearney
Rob Kearney

For the past five seasons Rob Kearney always starts with 2009 as the template for what he wants to do every season.

"I want to win it all," he said.

"We've done it before. I've been involved in teams that have won the European Cup and a Grand Slam. We have as good or better teams now than we did back then.

"There's no reason why we can't do it all again".

Such is the mindset of a proven winner. The lust for gold never loses it's shine. The light at the end of a long tunnel that is the season always comes from the glint of silverware.

And the first real test in a gradually hardening season is that which Leinster contemplates against their best of enemies Munster, coming to a stadium not too far from you at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night.

However, Munster have not been able to beat Leinster away at the Aviva in five attempts since that unforgettable 2006 Heineken Cup semi-final.

The rivalry really needs Munster to beat Leinster at the Aviva Stadium, doesn't it?

"I don't think it does," said Kearney.

"How long did we go losing in Thomond Park, in Musgrave Park, but, yet, it was still a huge clash. It has always been since I've played for Leinster. That won't change.

"It is always the biggest League game. Without a doubt. It is still selling out or close to it in the Aviva. People still go in their thousands. People still love it. The focus of Irish rugby, in terms of the punters, is Leinster-Munster."

While Kearney grew up watching Munster reach in vain for European glory in 2000 and 2002, making his debut early into the same season they finally made the breakthrough against Biarritz Olympique in 2006.

The Louth man, just 20 then, sat on the bench, unused and unable to influence the outcome, when Leinster were crushed 30-6 by Munster at the old Lansdowne Road.

He played through the rise of Leinster and the concurrent fall of Munster, although it has never diluted his respect for the southern province and, especially, their knack for making the best out of what they have.

"They have always played to their strengths and that's intelligent. If you have a savage pack and highly classed half-backs, you've got to use them," he said.

"For the last three years, or so, people look at them at the start of the season and write them off, saying they don't have what it takes, they're not good enough.

"But, they keep hanging in there. They've been close in Europe. That performance against Toulouse last year was something. There was Clermont the year before when they could have snatched it.

"They keep on surprising."

Kearney never surprises in that he almost always plays to a consistently high level whether for club, country or, indeed, the British & Irish Lions. The dips in form are few and far between.

But, the desire to be more, to win more never wanes: "I'm only 28. I still have a huge amount I want to achieve," he stated.

"I want another World Cup. I want to go on another Lions tour. In two years time, I will be 30.

"I would like to think I will still be sharp. I won't be on the way out as a player."

This is all spoken with the belief that he can make all the gains he wants at his home province. The PRO12 League is theirs to lose. Europe is not beyond them.

"Leinster can continue to be very competitive," he said.

Nonetheless, this could be jeopardised by the glut of injuries that has hit Leinster hard with Seán O'Brien's immediate future in the hands of a specialist and Cian Healy out for anywhere between four to six months. There are others too. His brother Dave, Jordi Murphy and Luke Fitzgerald.

"The attrition rate of the game has gone through the roof. You are looking at a rate of 20% unavailability every week. Unfortunately, sometimes, that can be four or five of your top players.

"In fact, it generally will be because they play more of the games, the more physical, the more intense games. They'll be the ones who'll get injured.

"Although, our strength in depth has improved a huge amount over recent years, for a small country like Ireland, we can't carry too many injuries to key players".

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