Ben Whitley/INPHO Kearney runs at Scarlets openside Dan Davis.
# big game player
Cullen backs Kearney to step up performance to face England
Leinster’s head coach was more concerned with why his fullback was left making one-on-one tackles.

LEINSTER HEAD COACH Leo Cullen moved to defend Rob Kearney’s defensive performance during Friday’s Pro14 win over Scarlets and backed him to step up for the Six Nations opener against England.

Like Jack McGrath, Kearney was left out of Ireland’s visit to a Portugal training camp in order to get game-time under his belt after injury. The veteran fullback played 60 minutes in a nervy 22-17 win at the RDS, but missed tackles on scrum-half Kieran Hardy and flanker Dan Davis made the run-out appear far from ideal preparation.

“From our point of view, we are more worried why we are exposing Rob to make those tackles in the first place,” Cullen said post-match in the RDS.

“Why is our front line being breached anyway? Or why is Rob having to plug on the edges?

There are so many different components to it. There are tackles and tackle technique, the work we do there as individual skills… from the performance point of view, the team is what we’re more worried about.”

As Ireland’s most decorated player, Kearney has often shown himself able to shake off patchy form in time to deliver on big occasions for Ireland. Cullen expects this week’s Championship opener at the Aviva Stadium to be another instance of Kearney’s big game temperament.

“Rob has so much experience at the top level. He will come back in.

“He had been out for a period even leading into the All Blacks, hadn’t played a huge amount.

“He took that bang on his sternum at the time in the Treviso game where he went off quite early that day. He turned it around: three weeks later, he was playing against the All Blacks without having done any real training and puts in a performance where he was outstanding.

“He has so much experience Rob, I wouldn’t won’t worry about that. I think he will be better for having come through game minutes because he’s just been a little bit shy in that.

“He will be well able to step up.”

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