Last month, Andy Farrell named his first training squad for Ireland. The 45-man squad features 8 uncapped players and excludes the likes of Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion and Jordi Murphy.
The most surprising omission, however, is Rob Kearney. Just seven shy of 100 caps for his country, Farrell has left us all (Rob included) scratching our heads, trying to figure out why he wouldn’t be in the starting team, let alone in the training squad.
Kearney, 33, has been Ireland’s undisputed full-back for the last decade. Irish fans welcome his calming presence; he always keeps a cool head when his team are under the cosh. They ‘re always a better team when he’s in the side. One such example was in February, when he was benched for Robbie Henshaw against England. They missed him dearly.
Unfortunately, Henshaw solidified the logic that Yohan Huget had proved the night before with his host of cataclysmic errors against Wales: full-back is not a position that you can just slide into at test level. Unless you’re Beauden Barrett – in which case you can pretty much do whatever you want. You have to be self-assured and flawless for 80 minutes; inconspicuous yet omnipresent.
So, why hasn’t he made the cut?
The answer is fairly simple: it’s time for a change. A big one.
No one speaks about international rugby today without talking about world cup cycles. ‘It takes 4 years to build a team, and you need to utilise every minute to make sure you have the strength and depth to win the world cup’ etc, etc…
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Look at the Folau-shaped hole in the Australian team. Where would Scotland be without Stuart Hogg? Even World Champions South Africa: Willie Le Roux was unconvincing at best in Japan. But Erasmus had to stick with him and he, eventually, returned to his exceptional best in the final against England. You need need someone to own the 15 jersey.
Kearney has no clear successor, and Farrell knows it. He will be 37 when France 2023 rolls around. Someone will have to fill his boots and they need to get going immediately, there is no time for transition. Injury-permitting, I bet that whoever finishes this 6 Nations in the 15 shirt will wear it for the next 4 years.
Who is Ireland’s next fullback?
Will Addison, Jacob Stockdale, Mike Haley and Andrew Conway could all be in with a shout to wear 15 at some point this 6 Nations – but they’ll just be borrowing it from Kearney’s team-mate at Leinster. Jordan Larmour is the logical choice to play in and own that shirt for the next 4 years.
He’s not necessarily a natural full-back and is commonly deployed on the wing; something he shares with some of the above. He is young, he is inexperienced. He is, however, an exceptional talent and has a very bright future. If Farrell chooses him at 15 now, there is no doubt he’ll be ready for 2023.
Have your say below!
Is it unfair to cut Kearney out of the team in this manner, having been such a servant to Ireland? Or, is this the first manifestation of the ruthless intent Ireland need to lift the William Webb-Ellis cup?