Rob Kearney has enjoyed some tremendous seasons over his eleven-year professional rugby career but the 2015/16 campaign was not one of them.
The Ireland international endured a season that was ravaged by a succession of hamstring injuries that saw him appear just twice for Ireland in the 2016 Six Nations, as well as just three times for Leinster in the Champions Cup.
The 30-year-old fullback did return for Leinster’s Pro 12 final loss to Connacht in May, but was ruled out of Ireland’s tour of South Africa just a week later after straining his hamstring during a pre-tour training session at Carton House.
Kearney admitted that it was ‘tough’ to miss out during the tour of South Africa but that the injury may have actually been a blessing in disguise.
“I played very little rugby last year,” Kearney told reporters in Dublin after Leinster’s opening win of the season against Treviso.
“Physically, you do feel refreshed, but mentally, it was really challenging as well. You know you’re in, you’re out, I had maybe five hamstring strains last year that were never overly serious, they were all only Grade 1 injuries but they just kept me out for 10-14 days, which made it impossible to get any sort of momentum together.
“The tour was disappointing to miss but maybe it was a blessing in hindsight just to wipe the hard drive clean and go back to basics, and just work really hard on getting back to good shape.”
Kearney was part of a host of Leinster players that were coming back from injury, with Kearney, Cian Healy and Mike McCarthy all making their competitive returns to rugby after injury plagued campaigns last term.
All three players were taken off at different periods during the second-half, but for Kearney his 74 minutes of play could be summarised by spells of indifference.
At times the Ireland fullback would show glimpses of the type of form that has seen him make the Irish 15 jersey his own over the last few seasons, highlighted by great link up play and acceleration in the open field. At other times during Friday’s contest, Kearney looked exactly like a player who was returning off a lengthy lay-off as his timing and delivery of certain passes were just slightly off.
However, Kearney understands that it will take a couple of weeks to get back into his groove and that for him it takes two or three games before he starts feeling like an athlete again.
“It probably takes two or three games to get back,” Kearney added.
“We do a lot of conditioning in pre-season, you’re doing two or three sessions a week but they never really replicate what you do out on the field.
“The first 20 to 25 minutes of the game was quick paced so depending on the game, weather conditions, time of the day, all different factors, but it’s generally two or three games before you get back to feeling like an athlete again.”
Kearney added that he was optimistic of what Leinster could do this season but that their opening performance needed to be better if last year’s finalists were to get a result against Glasgow next weekend.
The Blues gave away too much possession and too many penalties to Treviso on Friday at the RDS, and Kearney admitted that if Leinster do the same at the Scotstoun Stadium next Saturday, they will be punished by Glasgow.
“We need to be really disciplined at this level. I think we gave 12 penalties away, I’m not sure how many times we turned it over, but it was difficult to get a foothold in the game.
“We started off really well, we built up a good lead, but for a lot of the game we were defending a seven-point lead.
“We certainly need to be a hell of a lot better next week. It’s going to be on an astroturf and a 3 o’clock game in the daytime, you can imagine it’s going to be a really quick game again, and any turnover ball will be punished, particularly against Glasgow, where we know the threat that their backs can pose.”
Leinster will take on the Warriors at 3pm next Saturday, September 10, with the match being broadcast live on Sky Sports.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena
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