Kearney in a battle with Larmour for full-back spot at #RWC2019
Rob Kearney has a fight on his hands. The veteran Ireland full-back, capped 92 times by his country, came into this World Cup as the unchallenged No.1 number 15.
But after stepping in as the last line of defence for Ireland's opener against Scotland, the fast-rising Jordan Larmour has suddenly emerged as a serious rival.
Kearney, 33, was on the training pitch in Chiba for less than five minutes last week when he felt a twinge in his calf. It was not a serious injury, but five days later his name was missing when coach Joe Schmidt called out the team for Ireland's opening game against Scotland - a victory in which his replacement shone.
Kearney will be fit for the second pool game against Japan on Saturday in Shizuoka, and will most likely start.
But he knows that his 22-year-old Leinster colleague put down a big marker against the Scots in Yokohama. Questions about the younger man's positional sense and aerial ability were answered emphatically. In a high-profile audition, Larmour looked the part.
For Kearney, there was the frustration of watching from the wings as Ireland produced their most vibrant performance since beating the All Blacks in November 2018.
"It's always tougher watching on. I've gotten particularly good at it over the last number of years," Kearney said, wryly.
"When the boys came off the field at the weekend I was just so jealous of them that they've got that first one under the belt, so that's going to be a challenge."
Kearney would long since have passed the 100-cap mark had he not spent so much time on the treatment table during his fine career. Just when it looked like he was recapturing the form that saw him selected for two Lions tours, another niggle has opened the door to a new challenger in Larmour.
"It was a big game for him. It was a big opportunity but it was a big challenge for him as well - and he passed it with flying colours," Kearney said at Ireland's latest training base in Yumeria, near Shizuoka.
Most older players watching from the sidelines as a younger man has a big game in their position are going to have conflicted feelings - and Kearney was honest enough to admit as much.
"He's such a good young lad and you can't help but be very pleased for him. I want him to go well - I don't want him to go really well," he said, smiling.
There is mounting optimism among Ireland supporters who were in despair when the team were routed by England just last month, but old warrior Kearney struck a cautionary note.
"It's important we don't get too far ahead of ourselves. Twickenham was only three or four weeks ago and we got a serious hiding that day," he said.
"We're certainly in a much better place, but there's still more in us and we can still keep adding bits and pieces in our game.
"If you had to be very honest about it, will Japan pose a better threat than Scotland? You'd have to say yes based on what they produced at the weekend. It's very important that we understand that as a team."
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