Sunday 23 October 2016

Rob Kearney: We have free shot at Toulon

Rob Kearney, Leinster, is tackled by Anthony Watson, Bath
Rob Kearney, Leinster, is tackled by Anthony Watson, Bath
Rob kearney

What was billed as Bath's 'free shot' in the Champions Cup quarter-final will be also applied to Leinster's meeting with Toulon on Sunday week.

"Maybe it's a free shot for us a little bit, yeah," said Rob Kearney.

This is based purely on last year's quarter-final, where Leinster failed to fire as Toulon put the various pieces of their spectacular jigsaw together on their way to a second straight European Cup.

Now, the French are looking for a record-breaking third.

Ireland full-back Kearney has his fair share of medals on the mantlepiece as a multiple Heineken Cup and Six Nations winner, never mind the wealth of experience from two British & Irish tours to South Africa and, latterly, Australia.

He has never spent too much time entertaining or, more revealingly, dealing with the label of 'the underdog.'

Okay, the times they have been 'a-changing' and Leinster do not have the same generals that sent a shiver of fear through Europe from 2009 to 2012.

Still, the culture of winning has been developed within the 'family circle' and demanded inside and outside the club environment.

It can be distilled into two words: 'Leinster expects.'

It is in the air at this point. Leicester Tigers have it. Toulon too. Toulouse had it.

It is one thing to build it; quite another to continue it.


"It's very difficult when you've been there so many times and you've won," he said.

"When you have a history of winning three Heineken Cups, you expect to be in semi-finals. You expect to win them."

While the Louth man was willing to acknowledge certain similarities between where Bath were last Saturday and where Leinster will be at Stade Velodrome, in Marseille, there are also important differences to be digested.

"It is a free shot for Bath because they haven't been in that position a huge amount of times in recent years.

"Yeah, it is a little bit of a free shot. But it's a huge opportunity for us as well," he asserted.

Last year, Leinster were still trading on their reputation for delivering when it mattered most in Europe.

They were systematically taken apart by Toulon, the relatively new kingpins on the European block, and the current form of the province doesn't exactly scream of champion form.

Leinster are languishing, unimpressively in fifth in the PRO12 and were some way short of their best against Bath in The Champions Cup quarter-final last Saturday.

Kearney makes no apologies for Ireland's pragmatism or Leinster's ability to win without reaching for the spectacular.

"We saw from the Six Nations that discipline is massive," he said.

"You give away kickable penalties, you're going to be on the back-foot."

That is exactly how Bath fell to the lethal place-kicking of Ian Madigan.

"To the neutral, sorry it's not a more exciting game. But you do what you've got to do to win."

This is where the success or failure of every season starts and ends. It is all about silverware and medals.

And Kearney knows what it takes to win them.

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