Rob Kearney: 'We're a hugely different side from last year'
It is not just Champions Cup rugby that revs the engines of Leinster players. The mere presence of knockout territory should be a strong enough incentive.
Leinster’s PRO12 League match at the Dragons is that in everything but name. So says Rob Kearney.
“Your preparation is always better come Europe. When it’s knockout rugby, it’s better,” he said.
“This week again is more than likely knockout rugby, so I expect our preparation to be very good this week too.”
The Ireland full-back went out of his way to confirm his frustration as Leinster’s inconsistent preparation through the season fell “90pc” onto the shoulders of the players, not the coaches.
“It has been alright since Christmas. Europe has been okay. We’ve got to a semi-final.
“There is a few games we let slip in the PRO12 that we should have won. Now we are battling to get into the top four.
“That is my point. I am not
completely oblivious and in denial.”
Undoubtedly, there are creases to be ironed out of Leinster’s game.
“It is a combination of us not playing to our potential and it is a combination of us not being allowed play to our potential too,” he recognised.
Kearney turned back to an often-discussed comparison between the Six Nations period of this season and last season.
“It’s not so much a concern. One place where we’ve always been very, very strong – last year I think we got 20 (19) points during the Six Nations.
“I’m not sure how many we’ve got this year (8), but I know it wasn’t 20. It just shows the need for a massive strength in depth, skill level and leader level right across the board.
“When you do have a huge amount of guys going away on international duty, it’s important that you’ve got a huge amount of guys ready to take their opportunity, because that’s what they’re training for the whole year round.
“If you let that opportunity slip, sometimes it can be detrimental come the business end of the season.”
The load of leadership should not automatically leave or return with the loss or gain of Ireland internationals.
“Leadership can sometimes be a buzz word thrown a little bit around,” he added.
“Look, all 15 guys need to lead. You do have a few voices and a few guys who have been in those situations before.
“If a guy hasn’t played a huge amount of rugby, but he is wearing that jersey for the day, it is not so much of an excuse to say ‘Well he is not one of our leaders, you know it is okay we will let him away with that’.”
Guess what? Leinster are at the business end and it has been costly.
The province has also had to
stomach some of the same criticisms as Ireland did in the Six Nations.
“I think a lot of that frustration is coming because we’re not scoring tries. Would I be right?” he asked.
“The amount of tries scored in the game now than there was maybe five years ago has decreased dramatically.
“Defences are so much better. Referees are refereeing breakdowns a huge amount more. You don’t get away with as much. I think if you assessed a lot of teams, they’re going to be scoring less tries than maybe they have done in previous years.”
When you pull on the Leinster jersey, you pull on all the responsibility that goes with it to maintain, even surpass, the achievements of former times.
Kearney felt it was opportune to introduce another heavy dose of reality, especially when it comes to The European Cup.
“We’re a hugely different team than we were last year,” he pushed.
“We’re a hugely different team than when we won it in 2012 and 2011. You can’t keep looking backwards.
“It is important that we do the best with what we have now.”
The concerns of supporters who yearn for the thrills and spills that lined the route to three Heineken Cups in 2009, 2011 and 2012 are because they are living in the past. The game has changed. The root of rugby power has changed. Heck, even the name of the competition has changed.
The plain-speaking truth is that rugby is a profession that prospers on winning.
It is what fills trophy cabinets. It is what makes players and coaches happy.
“I don’t want to go into a game
scoring six tries and lose by two points,” he said.
Looking back at the Six Nations, the Louth man was able to regale his
satisfaction from two contrasting matches.
“I did enjoy the Scotland game without a doubt, but I had massive enjoyment of the England game too.”
However, Leinster have sunk so low in the PRO12 that tries are an immediate focus on Sunday due to the need for points on the table, while five-pointers will be central to breaking down The European champions one week later.
It remains to be seen whether Leinster can rediscover the accuracy to strike deep into the heart of the Dragons before they take a shot at Toulon.