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No point comparing Leinster to 2012 vintage, everything has changed -- Rob Kearney

The fullback says his side must keep evolving to challenge the threats from the Top 14.

LEINSTER ARE STILL hurting after Sunday’s 100-minute struggle against Toulon.

The wounds are still being licked no matter how impressed or surprised those outside the camp were that they actually pushed the champions that far.

“We went over there wanting to win and a lot of people expected to win too,” says Rob Kearney, giving no credence to the suggestion that a game like that could provide a boost to confidence in the squad.

LeinsterÕs Rob Kearney and ToulonÕs  Mathieu Bastareaud Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“We weren’t given a chance by the outside, but outside perception and what was happening there are very different. I wouldn’t say that the mood in the camp is overly different now.”

The fullback steers clear of a common professional cliche. He doesn’t live blissfully unaware of what is being said about the three-time European champions. Kearney does his best to ensure that outside commentary does not influence him, but the ever-present comparison with the side who won back-to-back Heineken Cups does annoy him.

“One of the problems is that we keep comparing back to 2012 or 2011.

“We’re different. It’s a completely different environment. There are new players and new coaches right across the board. From that perspective we can’t keep looking backwards.

Rob Kearney Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We are where we are now — yes, there have been more internationals gone and injuries, but you have to work with what you have.”

Expectation of matching past achievements and style doesn’t necessarily have to be pie in the sky, of course. Demands from supporters always trickle down and they can force those inside the camp to enforce standards.

The42 put it to the fullback that some players view expectation as healthy, perhaps even necessary, but from Kearney’s point of view the personnel has seen too much turnover to replicate the golden years.

I don’t know how many guys played in 2012 or 2011. You’re missing nine or 10 guys. It’s very healthy if you’ve got the exact same players and the same coaches. You were able to do that then, you’re not able to do it now. But there’s a huge amount of variables in between that are very, very different. That’s why I don’t believe it’s overly healthy.”

The squad still have the belief that they can beat any team that sets foot on the same pitch, but no matter what criticism comes their way they will do it by different means.

“When [criticism] gets a little bit aggressive, you batten down the hatches a little bit. You start paying less attention to it. Not that it ever alters our mindset or how we’re going to play, but you become a bit more bulletproof, I think.”

He adds: “Criticism of the type of game we’re playing sometimes is [over the top]. Up until last week we had lost one game in Europe, [earned a] home quarter-final. In terms of that element, yes.”

Mathieu Bastareaud and Guilhem Guirado tackle Rob Kearney Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Don’t let Kearney’s defence of Leinster’s methods let you believe he’s happy with his current lot, though. The goals of the 2011-12 era remain the same, it’s just the road to get there that has been altered.

“Am I happy with the Pro12? No, I think we have to be in the top four. Am I happy in Europe? No I’d love to be playing an the final next week.

Okay we didn’t play the most exciting rugby at times during the campaign, but we were probably the best side out of the English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish [clubs] in the competition. I think we’ve done pretty well in Europe.

“It’s always going to be difficult. Especially when you’re competing with the French sides who are getting bigger, and have bigger budgets coming through, but that’s why we need to keep evolving.”

Originally published at 18.18

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Sean Farrell

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