'There's a fair bit of faith put in me and a fair bit of pressure to repay the coach' -- Rob Kearney

The fullback said Saturday’s match was a more nerve-wracking prospect than usual.

Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

FOR ROB KEARNEY, the lead-up preparation for Saturday’s comprehensive win over South Africa was less than ideal.

His second and third appearances for Leinster this season were separated by a six-week absence due to his recurring hamstring issue, leaving him only the inter-pro win over Ulster to warm up for the November internationals.

And yet, while Simon Zebo was omitted as a message to all who consider moving out of Ireland and Tiernan O’Halloran missed out thanks in part to a niggling groin issue, Kearney slotted neatly back into Joe Schmidt’s plans.

As the only out-and-out fullback in the squad, he naturally took up his familiar 15 jersey to face the Springboks and hit the ground running.

“I really enjoyed the day. The build-up to it and the week was probably more nerve wracking than I’ve had that some other games. But it’s great to be back out there,” Kearney said at Carton House today.

Playing his first international since the March loss to Wales in Cardiff, the 31-year-old acknowledged the nervous tension was partly fuelled by the show of faith from Schmidt.

Rob Kearney and Dillyn Leyds Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“100%, that’s probably part of the added pressure too. There was a window for me to potentially play last week (Glasgow v Leinster) but I didn’t get released for the game, so he’s backing you to play at a particular level without having so much game time.

So there’s a fair bit of faith put in me in those instances, and a fair bit of pressure on you to repay the coach.”

Unfortunately for Kearney, he has had many chances to get used to ramping up to the highest level of rugby without much in the way of match minutes under his belt.

“Ideally you’d have three of four games provincially going into the national ones. I had one 80 minutes in a couple of months, so yeah it is difficult not having the perfect preparation but that’s something I am more than used to after the last couple of years.”

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I suppose the amount of rehab and prehab I have to do now before pitch sessions,” says Kearney when asked what he now must do differently to manage his troublesome hamstring.

“I need to do 45-50 minutes just on my own every single morning before the sessions that I didn’t have to do when I was 20 years old. So yeah listen, things are different but I’ve found something now that has been working for me for the last four or five weeks. So fingers crossed long may it continue.”

Kearney will undoubtedly hope to win his 78th cap when Ireland host Fiji on Saturday, though the arrival of the Pacific islanders presents an opportunity for Schmidt to test out other fullback options from the back three resources of Dave Kearney, Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam, Jacob Stockdale, Adam Byrne and Joey Carbery.

Having come through the opening Test with Stockdale and Conway, and been replaced by Sweetnam in the closing minutes, Kearney can certainly feel the competition.

Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

“You could see the excitement in them, they were bubbling with energy.

“Sometimes you might go into games with wingers who you might not have played a huge amount with, you can worry a little bit just how you’re going to work in the back field which is an area of huge importance to this team. But I thought the two of them did fantastic, and then Sweets when he came on was brilliant too.”

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