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'I just think he's a flat-out winger': Experience keeps Kearney unfazed by meteoric Larmour rise

The veteran fullback is feeling comfortable and confident in his role and won’t be easily displaced.

Sean Farrell reports from Carton House

ROB KEARNEY DOESN’T have to hide the wry smile when the name of his young pretender is brought up.

Having witnessed at very close quarters how thrilling Jordan Larmour can be as an attacking force, he knows the subject is never far away. Now the 20-year-old has followed him into the international camp too, there is no hiding place from the precocious talent.

“I just think he’s a flat-out winger,” jokes the Louthman, fronting Ireland’s Carton House media duties ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations opener.

“If only.”

Kearney will turn 32 shortly after this Championship campaign is done and dusted though, and his 81 Test caps (three on Lions duty) over that period of time have not come without an enormous amount of experience gained and put to use along the way.

Larmour is undoubtedly a special talent, but Kearney, who remains the most likely to start at fullback against France this Saturday, has felt the heat from talented players before.

“I suppose throughout my whole career I’ve always been in some pretty heavy battles with a lot of 15s. I could list them: Felix (Jones), Lukey (Fitzgerald), Geordan Murphy, Girvan (Dempsey) and then Zeebs over the last few years.

There’s always been a lot of really good players vying for the jersey.  I’ve been as impressed as anyone else at some of the stuff (Larmour) has done over the last couple of months and it’s a good reward for him to be called into the Six Nations squad.”

“I’ve been lucky enough over the last 10-12 years that every year there is a young player who gets a huge amount of hype. I think it’s almost par for the course a little bit at the start of the season.

Rob Kearney Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“You always have one young guy who is playing superb rugby and they do get a lot of the headline inches. That’s something I’m used to over the last few years. So you’ve just got to be comfortable in your own skin, confident in your own game and just keep the head down and work hard.”

Being comfortable and doing that hard work comes much easier to Kearney when his body is injury-free and permitting him to show his wares and give assurance to coaches in the very biggest games. In recent seasons, a spate of posterior chain niggles have deprived Kearney of his best form, but he has worked hard to prevent such injuries and since the November series has enjoyed a relatively clear run.

“I’ve noticed over the last couple of years, my body and how I’m feeling determines a huge part of how I’m playing. Touch wood.

Rob Kearney Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I’ve played eight of the last nine games on the bounce now, which is pretty unusual for me over the last few years.

“When my body’s in a good place, mentally I’m enjoying the rugby and then you can start putting a bit of form together. And when you’re in that position, if you’ve guys coming up behind you, it’s good and it definitely spurs you on and has done over the last couple of months.”

So the attitude to Larmour, Andrew Conway, Joey Carbery, Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw… or anyone else who feels they can take over that 15 jersey is: ‘bring it’?

“Yeah, a little bit, but don’t bring it too much.”

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