Rob Kearney: Former full-back backs Ireland to stay hot into next year’s World Cup

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Former international Rob Kearney is convinced this Ireland team will avoid dropping off before the 2023 Rugby World Cup as they have become renowned for in recent years.

Kearney was part of Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning side in 2018 that looked in excellent shape heading into 2019 before the wheels fell off as the Irish lost to Japan and took a thumping in their quarter-final against the All Blacks.

Bucking the trend

Peaking too early has become a monkey on the back of Ireland as they have shown tremendous form between World Cups but rarely during them.

The former full-back believes this Ireland team is different and that Andy Farrell’s men will clearly understand how much growth is required to seriously contend in France next year.

In conversation on BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast, Kearney outlined where his team went wrong after winning the Grand Slam.

“I think the big mistake we made in ’18 was, we won a Grand Slam, we went to one [in the rankings], we beat Australia away, we thought that we had the magic potion to success and what a great team looks like,” Kearney explained.

“We probably stayed stagnant a little bit. We didn’t feel as if we had to go and work on too many areas of our game. That was the big lesson that we took from that tour [to Australia] and that season.

“It’s only two and a half or three years ago so there’s a lot of players who are in this squad now who would have felt the exact same way.

“They will know, ‘We’re one in the world, we’ve beaten the All Blacks, we got the Triple Crown in the Six Nations but we still have a huge amount of growth left to do.’ I think that’s where the really important learnings over the last two and a half years will be.

“They’ve learnt the hard way that it doesn’t matter if you’re number one going into a World Cup, if you won a trophy beforehand and have taken all teams before you, you still have to be getting better week on week.”

Fresh coaching team

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side that fell short in 2019 had been under his tutelage for an extended period of six years, whereas Farrell has only been at the helm for half that time.

Paul O’Connell also recently joined the coaching team in 2021, and Kearney believes the freshness of the coaching staff may keep the performance at a high standard for a more significant period.

“I think one of the elements that is going to work in Ireland’s favour this time around is the fact that they still have a relatively new coaching group and coaching staff,” Kearney said.

“When things go a bit stagnant or your performance isn’t quite where it is with an older coach… We experienced that with Joe who was with us for six or seven years. That could potentially happen to England with Eddie [Jones].

“I think when coaches are there for a long time it’s a little bit easier for them to fall into some of those traps.

“With a new coach and a new group of assistant coaches and a head coach who’s desperate to achieve his first time around, I think the obstacles and barriers to things going wrong are not as high.”

Creating history in New Zealand by becoming the first northern hemisphere side to win a series in the land of the long white cloud during the professional era is a massive boost. Still, Farrell will have to keep his finger on the pulse to give Ireland the best chances of breaking their World Cup hoodoo.

READ MORE: Andy Farrell: Ireland head coach ‘regarded very highly’ by England as chief executive Bill Sweeney discusses Eddie Jones’ successor

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