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Monday 18 December 2017

Kearney wants this one badly

Ireland have Pumas point to prove

Rob Kearney feels Ireland have a point to prove against the Pumas on Saturday.
Rob Kearney feels Ireland have a point to prove against the Pumas on Saturday.

Rob Kearney's memories of the last time he played against Argentina are "all negative."

It spoiled what was looking like history in the making for Ireland in 2015.

"That was as bad a game as I can remember in an Irish jersey," he said bluntly.

"It was a World Cup. It was a quarter-final. We had done so well in the games before that.

"There was this massive goal we had as a team of getting to a semi-final."

In hindsight, the loss of the captain Paul O'Connell and the spine of leadership from Peter O'Mahony, Jonathan Sexton and Jared Payne, all to injury, Sean O'Brien to suspension and Tommy Bowe early into the quarter-final was just too much to overcome.

"We felt we had enough personnel to win the game," said Kearney. "There were very few positives we took from that game."

Mission

In fact, it has been the making of Ireland ever since, as coach Joe Schmidt has made it his mission to have more options on the field and off it.

Back then, it was Ireland's fate to see a well-formed defence ripped to shreds in the wide channels.

"That was Les Kiss's last game in charge before he went to Ulster."

The heartbreak for Ireland was overshadowed by the humiliation of host nation England.

The Rugby Football Union orchestrated a change of regime across the water which heralded the dawn of the Eddie Jones era.

First, the heads of coach Stuart Lancaster and defence specialist Andy Farrell had to roll.

The former would eventually end up at Leinster. Before that, the latter would make his way to Ireland.

"We were on the lookout for a new defensive coach," said Kearney.

The background checks all came from the extensive British & Irish Lions knowledge of the likes of Kearney, Sexton and Jamie Heaslip from working with Farrell.

The elite Irish internationals were gushing in their praise of the former Rugby League legend and Schmidt had encountered his own fair share of problems against his England defence.

"I think it was the summer tour just after that so obviously he brought his own systems and learnings he's had over the last few years.

"It was probably a big transition for us in our defensive make-up after that World Cup."

The rehabilitation of Farrell has been swift and impressive enough to make him the obvious favourites to succeed Joe Schmidt as Ireland head coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

As regards the here and now, Argentina will be gunning to complete an unsatisfactory season - they lost all six of their Rugby Championship matches - with a satisfactory scalp.

This tussle has never lacked bite and even bad blood.

That is what comes from a shared history at the World Cup where the Pumas have been Ireland's nemesis in 1999, 2007 and 2015.

The forensic process of analysing the opposition includes snapshots of Ireland's most recent experience against Argentina from that World Cup quarter-final.

"We won't look at specific things," said Kearney.

"A lot of the guys who played then we expect to play this week so when we go through some of their profiles and things like that there will be clips of that game that we played two years ago.

"It's tough viewing, but it's part of the job. You've got to look at those tough times as well."

This will bring back bad memories, open recent wounds and cause the management and players to recall, arguably, Ireland's most crushing World Cup defeat.

Big game

"It's a big game for us and it is one we will desperately want to win, maybe more so than some other games," said the Louth man.

"It's unprofessional to focus too much on that game because I think as a group we're very process-driven.

"We're very driven about a lot of moments within an 80-minute game.

"As soon as we get distracted by peripheral things, like games that happened two years ago, you take your eye off the ball a little bit and that is something we try not to do as a group," he stressed.

Whatever about the players, it is a renewal of a rivalry that the public can never take their eyes away from. No matter how ugly.

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