Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# Drive For Five
'It's tough, but there's no reason why we can't win nine from nine again'
Rob Kearney sees no reason why Leinster can’t replicate their title-winning form from last season.

ROB KEARNEY SAYS Leinster are more than capable of replicating their faultless European campaign again this season, as the eastern province prepare to embark on their Heineken Champions Cup title defence.

Leinster achieved the remarkable feat of winning all nine of their games in the competition last term, becoming just the second team to do so after Saracens, en route to a fourth European crown with victory over Racing 92 in Bilbao.

Rob Kearney Tommy Dickson / INPHO Kearney starts at fullback for Leinster. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Five months on, Leo Cullen’s side get their new campaign underway against Wasps at the RDS tomorrow night [KO 7.45pm, BT Sport] as the reigning champions and the team to beat.

Kearney is named to start at fullback in a formidable Leinster starting XV which includes no fewer than 14 internationals, with Kiwi James Lowe the only player without such credentials on his CV.

While Leinster’s pool contains three other previous winners in Wasps, Toulouse and Bath, Cullen’s charges will take some beating this season and Kearney sees no reason why the province can’t go all the way again.

“It’s tough to do, but there’s no reason why we can’t,” the Ireland international said.

“You set out at the start of the year to win trophies and that’s your goal as a team of course.To do that, chances are, you are going to have to win nine games in a row. So, listen, it’s doable but it’s more important to win one from one first.

“You look across the pools and there aren’t too many easy games for any of the teams. Certainly our group is one of the more competitive ones but we always try and scale it right back and look at the first game you have. Wasps have sent over a pretty strong team. Round one is our sole focus.”

Kearney made his 200th appearance for the province last week in the inter-pro victory over Munster and is joined in the back three by Lowe and the fit-again Jordan Larmour for Friday’s Pool 1 opener.

With a capacity crowd of 18,300 expected inside the RDS for the visit of Dai Young’s Wasps, the 32-year-old is relishing the prospect of a European tie under Friday night lights in Dublin.

“It’s really exciting,” Kearney continued. “We spoke earlier this morning about we don’t get too many chances to play European rugby in the RDS so it’s important we make them special nights for ourselves and the supporters too. Definitely really exciting to open up the competition at home.”

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Rob Kearney takes to the field for his 200th cap Dan Sheridan / INPHO Kearney is looking forward to a return to the RDS. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

In making nine changes in personnel for Wasps, Cullen was faced with a number of difficult selection decisions, not least leaving last week’s captain, Rhys Ruddock, out of the matchday squad altogether and holding Sean O’Brien and Scott Fardy back on the bench.

But it is another indication of Leinster’s incredible strength in depth that the likes of Ruddock and Fergus McFadden miss out completely, although Jamison Gibson-Park’s ankle injury did at least ease the headache around ‘non-European players’ this week.

Wasps, meanwhile, have Willie le Roux back at fullback after his involvement in the Rugby Championship with South Africa but both Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes are absent through injury and suspension.

On Leinster’s round one opponents, Cullen said: “You look at their team and there is a lot of power up front. They are a very quick team, a very quick team, and they’ve obviously brought in Lima Sopoaga which gives them a lot of X-Factor as well.

“A very good astute, tactical kicker as well and Willie le Roux at the back, a ton of pace. They’ve plenty of experience and we know it’s going to be a good challenge for us.” 

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