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Kearney hopes IRFU can keep 'one of the best coaches in the world'

Joe Schmidt is set to decide on his future as Ireland head coach before the end of the year.

ROB KEARNEY BELIEVES the IRFU will do everything in its power to retain the services of Joe Schmidt beyond the 2019 World Cup, with the Ireland head coach set to decide on his future in the coming weeks. 

The Kiwi’s contract with the union expires after next year’s World Cup in Japan and while the IRFU are keen to tie him down to a new deal, Schmidt has understandably always been attracted by the allure of a return home.  

Joe Schmidt celebrates winning with Rob Kearney Kearney has worked with the Kiwi at Leinster and Ireland. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

The publication of the IRFU’s strategic plan for 2018-2023 this week placed emphasis on the union’s long-term plans, and whether they will include the man central to Irish rugby’s success in recent years.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne says the picture will become significantly clearer after the forthcoming four-Test November series, at which point Schmidt is expected to sit down with the union to state his intentions. 

The departure of the 53-year-old from his head coach post would be a significant loss to Irish rugby, given Schmidt’s impact firstly at Leinster and then with the national team, guiding Ireland to three Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam, a historic victory over the All Blacks and the recent summer tour win in Australia during his five years in charge. 

“His results speak for themselves really, don’t they?” Kearney, who has worked with Schmidt since his arrival at Leinster back in 2010, said yesterday.

“The effect that he’s had on Irish rugby since he came to Leinster in 2010 is enormous. He’s brought the provincial team and the national team to new heights and there’s no doubt he’s one of the best coaches in the world.

“For your team to perform at their optimal level, you need a world class coach and he is that so I’m sure the union will be doing everything in their powers to keep him.”

Garry Ringrose believes it’s Schmidt’s man-management and ability to get the best out of players, both individually and then as a collective unit, which makes him so revered.

“He has players performing at their best or certainly gives you the right cues to allow you to excel,” the centre says. “And that’s what he has managed to do over the last few years, certainly in my experience anyway.

“He just brings the best out of the individual players as well as the collective group on a consistent basis.”

Both Kearney and Ringrose are in the frame for starting berths in Ireland’s two headline games during the November schedule, against Argentina and then the All Blacks, but face stiff competition in their respective positions. 

After missing Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse last weekend with a quad problem, 32-year-old Kearney has declared himself available for the province’s trip to Benetton this weekend as he looks to build further match sharpness. 

The fullback, who made his 200th appearance for Leinster in the inter-pro win over Munster earlier this month, has played 294 minutes this term and feels in good physical condition heading into the Autumn internationals.

“It has maybe been a little bit stop-start but I’m more than happy with where I’m at,” he explained.

Rob Kearney 12/10/2018 Kearney is back available for this weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I’m available for selection this week so if I make the trip to Treviso, you’re looking at a fifth game going into November which I think is a pretty good number.

“It’s probably more than I’ve had going into November over the last two or three years so I feel I’m in a pretty good place.

“We’re not as privy to how he [Schmidt] intends to play our minutes over the course of the season but there’s nothing worse than chasing your form during the season come December, January time.

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“So the more exposure to games you can get to games at the start of the season, obviously staying injury-free, it just gives you a little bit more breathing space coming into the internationals.” 

While Jordan Larmour has Kearney looking over his shoulder at Leinster, and Andrew Conway provides another option for Schmidt at fullback, he started all five of Ireland’s Six Nations games last term, as well as the three Tests Down Under.

Not that complacency would ever become an issue for Kearney, whose 14-year career chart contains its fair share of peaks and troughs, with a return to Chicago next week a reminder of a difficult phase he endured back in 2016.

“It was probably a stage in my career when I needed a big performance for Ireland,” he says, of that historic win over the All Blacks in Soldier Field.

“I had gone through a real tricky 18 months injury-wise before that. Injured my knee in round two of the Pro12 before that and only played half the game in Europe the week before, so I wasn’t in the best of shape going in but everything about that day was brilliant, an unbelievable memory.”

After struggling with injuries, the Louth native produced a big performance that night to prove a point to many who doubted him, and provide a firm reminder of his enduring quality in the number 15 jersey.

Now up to 89 Ireland caps, 84 of which have come as starts, Kearney’s worth is unquestionable and injury-permitting, will continue to be in situ for the World Cup as Schmidt prepares to run the rule over his enlarged 42-man squad over the next month.

“As a squad we only have maybe 13 games before the first round of the World Cup,” Kearney adds.

“So it’s not a huge amount of games considering you could have a group of up to 40 players looking for some game time over the course of those 13 games in the next 11 months.

Rob Kearney with Kurtley Beale Kearney has started Ireland's last eight Tests. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s important we hit the ground running as quickly as possible next month and build some good performances and results within that as well as I’m sure the coaches will try and build even further depth amongst the squad.

“There is the challenge between winning games, performing well and building that depth.

“The New Zealand game is the one the public is certainly viewing as the big one and there has been a huge amount of chat about it. But we’ll get a little bit of an insight into the team that’s playing Italy over the next week or so, so the guys playing in that game will be solely focused on Italy.

“And then you’ve got the Argentinians who have played as good as rugby as anyway in the Rugby Championship — they’re flying pretty high at the moment, some of their attacking rugby is really impressive, so that’s going to be a huge game for the squad.

“Then you’ve got a quick turnaround of just seven days to the All Blacks so it’ll be a tricky couple of weeks. From the outside, yeah, everyone is looking at New Zealand but internally we’ll have to scale it back for the first couple of games.” 

Audi ambassadors Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose were speaking to The42 at the launch of Audi’s 191 campaign in Dublin yesterday.

Audi_Rob Kearney_02

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