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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
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'He has the Kearney composure DNA and a laser-like focus at key moments'
Simon Hick details how Dave Kearney is a Joe Schmidt player.

DAVE KEARNEY IS currently the form player in the Irish team.

Not a sentence you’d expect to have read a week out from the Rugby World Cup, but the evidence from the game against England was pretty clear. Every tackle completed, every carry with a few extra yards gained, every catch and kick executed close to perfection.

Dave Kearney Dan Sheridan / INPHO Kearney was superb against England in London. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

There’s something satisfying about watching a player get every last ounce out of their ability. We’re getting distilled, 100% proof Dave Kearney at the moment, and he deserves to start against Italy and France.

What’s interesting about this is he rarely scorches past a defender, doesn’t feature in too many YouTube clips, and hasn’t lodged an iconic moment in Irish fans’ memory banks.

The IRFU website even claims he has yet to make his Test debut (he has and he scored two tries on it).

This relatively low profile outside of Leinster is partly down to the fact that under Joe Schmidt Ireland have been able to absorb the loss of various key players and just get on with things.

When Andrew Trimble and Kearney got injured Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo and Luke Fitzgerald came in. When Jamie Heaslip was out, Jordi Murphy played superbly. Jack McGrath has been taking Cian Healy’s place for the last few months and the team hasn’t suffered. They even managed to replace once-in-a-generation D’Arcy and O’Driscoll and still win most of their games.

Kearney junior has a Six Nations championship to his name, however, and his baseline level for Ireland is extremely high, like the rugby version of a neap tide. He is shorter and not as thick-set as his older brother, but he’s faster and just as good under a high ball. He has the Kearney composure DNA and a laser-like focus at key moments.

IrelandÕs Dave Kearney The younger Kearney looks a likely starter against Italy and France.

His debut was also Schmidt’s first game with Ireland, and ever since then he’s been perceived as the archetypal Schmidt player – more likely to clear out a ruck than make a 40-metre break. He also sticks to the game-plan like no other – he doesn’t get isolated in possession, battles through the tackle, presents the ball quickly, doesn’t throw risky passes, doesn’t shoot out of defence, and relishes the aerial battles.

The main (and perhaps only) criticism of Schmidt’s reign has been the lack of risk taking, the argument being there aren’t enough players making things happen.

Every inch has to be fought for, no huge gains are made, the counter-attack is rarely used, there are relatively few long-range tries, and Dave Kearney is one of the players that best crystallises this point of view.

The other major nations have out-and-out flyers on the wing, some of them with the power of a back rower. New Zealand have the most explosive athlete in the sport in Julien Savea, South Africa have Bryan Habana, Australia have Drew Mitchell.

The elite teams don’t seem to have to compromise power for pace. Wales have the stocky-but-tall-but-fast George North. England now have two of the quickest men in the world in Anthony Watson and Jonny May, and France have gone as far as the pacific islands to find their speedster, the Fijian Noa Nakaitici.

The argument is, how often is an international winger put into space and allowed to use his top-line speed? Its almost always about making two or three yards, perhaps beating the first defender but not the second. Dave Kearney might only receive three passes in a game, but has to contest six or seven high balls and hit 10 rucks.

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New Zealand All Blacks Julian Savea 22/11//2014 Inpho / Billy Stickland 'The Bus' is a difficult proposition for defences. Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

The ideal player is of course one that has all the basics, and can beat defenders at will. Isreal Folau is the best example, but at the moment he has no peer. The way Australia are playing under Michael Chieka also means he gets on a lot of ball, and gets put into space by his teammates.

Over the last two years Ireland have looked at their best when playing to a structure, when following the plan. If the game breaks up, we don’t have the athletes to compete.

Schmidt’s job is to have the game played on Ireland’s terms, and that means hundreds of tiny moments deciding the result, rather than two or three big ones.

Joe Schmidt is our must successful ever coach. Kearney is a Joe Schmidt player.

At the moment, that’s the biggest compliment you can give a player.

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