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Tuesday 25 September 2018

Rob's hopes up in the air

Kearney ready for aerial battle with Aussies' main man Folau

Ireland's Rob Kearney at Carton House. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Rob Kearney at Carton House. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

IRELAND full-back Rob Kearney is looking forward to the aerial contest against Australia's "main man" Israel Folau.

"He is an awesome athlete. He really is. If I'm there at the back, I'm really looking forward to playing against him," said Kearney.

The former Louth minor will have to be at his best in a spectacular aerial dual against the ex-Australian Rules Football high-flyer Folau.

"Yeah, that's one area probably where the two of us would view as being one of our main strengths," enthused Kearney.

Hopefully, he will have Monaghan minor Tommy Bowe – he trained yesterday – and either brother Dave Kearney, a Louth minor, or Kildare's Fergus McFadden there to counteract Folau in the air.

Kearney's security at the back for Ireland last Saturday was that of a warm blanket. Wherever the ball was delivered, he was there to receive. And there was punch to his running too.

He also believes Australia are not the "pretty poor" side they were when they went down 2-1 to the British and Irish Lions this summer.

They have moved away from the uncertainty under New Zealander Robbie Deans to the back-to-Wallaby-basics of former Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie.

"I think they've changed a huge amount. They've got a lot of new players in, they've got some fresh faces and just the style of their play is very different too.

"There seems to be a little bit more direction. They know where they're going. I think during that summer they were a little bit guilty of not really having a clue where they were going next and what they were doing at that moment in time. They do have a lot more direction."

Kearney was cursed by injury early on the Lions tour and was always kept outside the test selection by the goal-kicking of Leigh Halfpenny. It was an experience that hurt more than he showed.

"I think it's always a little bit of a dangerous one if you look to the past and try and get into your head, 'I have to go out here and try and do something extra special to prove to the world why I should have been involved in the summer Tests'.

 

Pressure

"Of course, there is a little bit of that and you are coming up against the team who you felt you maybe could have done a good job against this summer, but certainly what happened on the Lions during the summer won't be anywhere near my psyche."

Even so, he had time to sit and see Australia for what they were back then: "They were a team under pressure," Kearney said.

"At the same time you got a sense of, 'If you let these guys play and you leave them in a game, they are still well able to hang in there'.

"Even though they were playing poorly in those first two Tests, they could still easily have won them.

"In that third Test, the Lions probably put their best performance together and came away with a pretty easy victory. During that summer period, you could still see that they had a lot of raw talent.

"Raw talent does keep you in games even if you don't necessarily have that coaching structure behind you."

Then again, the Irish won't spend too much time worrying about what Australia will do. They have to put their own house in order first.

"We had a good hit out last week, we needed it and it was good for us. But there is no doubting that this is a huge game," he said.

"We had far too many turnovers than what we expect from our team. I think we turned over the ball 24 times and they might not all have been handling errors, but I think passing is one area that we as a backline will take a lot of pride from.

"When that skill isn't up to scratch, it just puts the team under pressure.

"Obviously our performance wasn't where we would have liked it to be for our first game. But we got the win, which is always the most important thing. We put 40 points on them which at international level is not the easiest thing to do. There are probably more positives to be taken than negative."

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