Brian O’Driscoll tipped Jared Payne as a potential Ireland full-back when he appeared on television a number of weeks back. Potential, maybe, but for it to happen the present custodian of the No 15 jersey will either be unavailable or retired.
Though out of action for a number of weeks, Robert Kearney brought all of his outstanding skills to the Aviva on Saturday last and displayed them in beautiful and heroic fashion. His performance in the Ireland’s surprise but deserved defeat of the mighty and in-form South Africa was summed up thus in a Sunday newspaper: “Imperious in the air, deadly on the ground.” And in a reference to his recent lay-off: “Didn’t look short of a gallop.” Nine out of 10 in the ratings is as near to perfection as makes little difference.
For those, your writer among them, who most like watching Ireland play when one or the other - preferably both – of the Kearney brothers is playing, there could be a few good months ahead. There are some more Tests to be played before Christmas, and after that comes the Six-Nations, and, roll of drums, the World Cup. Dave Kearney is currently in the treatment room, along with many of the others Joe Schmidt would have chosen had they been available on Saturday.
That they fashioned a 29-15 win in such circumstances speaks volumes for the new-look side the coach pieced together. The experience of Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Tommy Bowe was important, but another vital ingredient in the winning mix was the flair and obvious desire to impress of relative newcomers, Robbie Henshaw and Rhys Ruddock, and first-timer, the already-mentioned Jared Payne. Sexton was flawless in his place-kicking.
Payne wore the jersey O’Driscoll excelled in and had the dream debut. Like a number of others in the team he’s a non-native, having played in the lower grades in New Zealand before travelling to this part of the world to take up with Ulster.
It might not happen until O’Connell retires, but is it not odds-on Robert Kearney one day taking on the captaincy of a team with which he has now 56 caps?