Kearney: We need an early spark

Kearney: We need an early spark
Rob Kearney during an Ireland Rugby press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

IRELAND full-back Rob Kearney doesn’t deny that the loss to England in the first round of the Six Nations damaged the side’s confidence.

Despite what has been said by some former players, he doesn’t think the damage done by that game is irreversible.

He reckons that all it will take is a small spark to re-ignite Ireland’s fire.

“A team’s confidence can come back in one set-piece,” he says. 

“Three or four phases of play, passing is really accurate, you find the holes or the gaps that you scouted during the week, people running on to the ball at pace, you score a try at the end of it, everyone is jumping in on top of each other and celebrating a try.

“The great thing about a team lacking a little bit of confidence is that it just takes a small spark to get it back. 

"That is what we will be hoping for early on at the weekend.” 

For a team to have confidence, the individual players need it before it can become a collective confidence and Kearney says that whether you are a professional sportsman or an ordinary person in the street, you have the same reactions to highs and lows.

The difference for professional athletes is that when they make a mistake in their day job it can be seen by tens of thousands or even millions sometimes.

“Elite athletes are no different to any other punter watching on from the stand. 

"It is still a human person with the same thoughts, the same negative thoughts, the same positive thoughts, we are all the same, you know.

“You put a guy out on the field in front of 80,000 people, another few million people watching at home on TV, and you make a mistake, it will have that effect on anybody. 

"And that is where our training comes in, our confidence, little bit of sports psychology and mindfulness, the little bit of things that we do in the background to give you that ability to park it, move to the next moment and keep looking forward.” 

That has been one of the hallmarks of the Joe Schmidt era, his ability to change that one percent of things that makes a difference whether it is working on a player’s physical skillset or his mental one.

It has given him an inside track to where the team are in terms of mental and physical preparation for big games and this week has been no different to the week before the three previous games in the championship.

“I think Joe has a very good understanding of where we are as a group. 

"He has an ability to get a read on us early in the week if we’re off a little bit and we need our reins pulled in.

“If he thinks we need to be built up a little bit, if we haven’t quite hit the markers that we want to in training…. you know, we probably were a little bit broken after the English game but I think that’s understandable and you’d expect that. 

"What you would also expect and hope for is that the game the following week that you’d make up for it and you’d come out and you’d produce the game ideally that you would have liked to the week before.

"But we’ve got to move on in this competition too, that English game was round one… we’re moving into round four now. It’s time we put it past us.” 

What that loss did do was dampen some of the Ireland fans’ expectations. 

Having beaten the four Rugby Championships sides in the past two seasons and winning a Six Nations Grand Slam, it would be easy for the players to get carried away on the hype and that has happened to some degree and could be partially responsible for the dip in form.

“I think deep down we all realise that sometimes it’s quite easy to get immersed into this little rut that you can be in, you start to listen a bit to outside pressures and a little bit of noise and everything that goes on. 

"The coaches have been good at that over the last week highlighting and I suppose reassuring us that the team we are and what we’ve achieved over the last 12 months.

You don’t lose that overnight, it’s just a matter of how we can find it.” 

One of the keys to Ireland doing well on Sunday against France in the Aviva will be how the back three work and Kearney, who has been hampered for the last two seasons with injuries is a key part of the trio.

He says that communication between the three is going to be key given the way France like to attack in the outside channels.

"It is very strong (his Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale’s communication), we're always trying to work on it.

“Back field, edge defence is becoming increasingly important in the game so I think the thing about it is that if we're off a little bit you can be very heavily exposed.

"You have to be absolutely bang-on perfect every phase of the play.

"So, a small lapse in conversation and the team can be punished. 

"That's why it's really important that we never take for granted, as a unit, that we've achieved what we want to do or we can't get any better."

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