This is what one of Saturday’s ‘papers said of Robert Kearney on the lead in to the Six Nations match with Scotland: “The Ireland fullback will have much to prove after being recalled to the starting lineup.” Really? Something to prove? Like what?
This is the holder of 87 International caps, going back to when he won his first as a teenager 13 years ago. He’s shared in all of Ireland’s major wins of recent years, two Grand Slams included, and in last year’s Autumn Series was outstanding, having one of his best games in the green jersey against the world’s best.
There’s more. He’s a Lion and a double-jobber, playing with Leinster when Joe Schmidt’s not looking for him.
His club team have been pretty good as well, winning the Heino and also the Pro 14 often enough to soften chief rival Munster’s cough, and not making it much good, either, for teams from the rest of this country, the ones closest to it and France and Italy.
The way I read the situation ahead of Saturday afternoon was, it wasn’t Kearney who had something to prove but Ireland as a team. There’d been huge expectations before a Gilbert was tipped off to start the 2019 campaign the previous week, Schmidt’s side firm favourites to make it a winning start against England. It didn’t happen. Kearney looked on from the place at The Aviva reserved for panellists.
I had a punt on the restored No. 15, taking him at 20/1 to add to the 13 tries he has already scored for his country. It would, however, have to be the first five-pointer of the game for me to collect.
He didn’t cross the line, but was, nonetheless, outstanding. I’d have been just a little miffed had I backed him to be man-of-the-match. As I’ve said before, I’ve limited knowledge of the oval ball game, going so far as to admit before that I was a waste of space on the occasions the IRFU provided me with a spot in the hacks’ hutch for Internationals at The Aviva and Croke Park.
But when someone like Ronan O’Gara says, as he did on Saturday after the 22-13 win, that “Rob Kearney had his best running game for Ireland”, I feel I don’t need to be an expert to be able to form an opinion.