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'I keep trying to tell myself to enjoy it': Kearney's third and final World Cup

The Ireland fullback starts against Wales on Saturday.

ROB KEARNEY HAS been here, done it and seen it all before, but the Ireland fullback admits his third World Cup feels different as he knows it will be his final one in the green jersey. 

Kearney will win his 92nd Ireland cap when he starts against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, having been the starting fullback at both the 2011 and 2015 tournaments in New Zealand and England/Wales.

rob-kearney Kearney at Carton House this afternoon. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He is one of a group of senior players — the likes of Cian Healy, Johnny Sexton, Sean Cronin and Keith Earls — who has a vast amount of World Cup experience in the bank, although not all of it is happy memories.

Now 33, Kearney wants to enjoy this campaign for what it is in the knowledge he will not get another chance to represent Ireland on the global stage.

“Any time you get selected for a World Cup it’s incredible,” he says. “Knowing it’s going to be my last one does make it a little bit different, and I keep trying to tell myself to enjoy it. It is difficult to do.

“But the World Cup is the pinnacle for any rugby player, and to do it for Ireland is always very humbling for me.”

The disappointment of back-to-back quarter-final exits four and eight years ago shape Kearney’s mindset.

“They’re great times and hugely enjoyable and everyone gets very excited when you’re winning,” he continues.

I’ve been to some World Cups when things haven’t gone so well and all of a sudden, they aren’t enjoyable pretty quickly. It’s simple. When you’re winning, you’re having the time of your life and when you’re not, it gets a bit tricky. There’s no secret formula and we know what we have to do.

Having sat out last weekend’s win over Wales in Cardiff, Kearney is hoping to get more minutes under his belt at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, as he comes back into Joe Schmidt’s starting XV.

Kearney’s only other appearance in pre-season was a start in the record defeat to England a fortnight ago, although his 53-minute cameo at Twickenham contained some bright moments, particularly during the first quarter.

The Leinster fullback looked sharp in the backfield for Ireland, but now it’s all about building momentum in performance and form heading towards Japan in Saturday’s final hit-out.

“We’re always trying to build, build on what we’ve done beforehand,” he adds. “I’ll take that Twickenham performance and try and build a little bit more.

rob-kearney The fullback is set for his 92nd cap this weekend. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“There were some good things but a fair few mediocre things as well, which were highlighted. You’re always trying to chase as perfect a game as possible. You’re never going to get there but you keep striving to get better and better every week.

“There were a lot of things from that Twickenham game that I need to brush up on this weekend.”

The squad understand the importance of Saturday’s game.

“Hopefully we can show what we’ve been doing a little bit more over the last few weeks,” Kearney says. “The guys who played in the Principality last week kicked it on another gear.

“A lot of changes again this weekend, so there’s a big onus on us to make sure we replicate what they did, and add a little bit more.

“I think the most important thing for us is getting the performance, just showing that we look like a real close team, that we’re starting to get together more and we’re reading off each other a lot more. 

“Performance-wise, we need to take another big step.”

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Ryan Bailey

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