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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

Jimmy O'Brien needs starts at full-back during Ireland's World Cup warm-ups - Rob Kearney

Rob Kearney wants to see Jimmy O'Brien at full-back in the World Cup warm-ups - to have him ready to go as Hugo Keenan's back-up.

The ultra-consistent Keenan has been close to being an ever-present for Andy Farrell since his Test debut in October 2020.

But there is no specialist full-back to provide cover for the Leinster and Ireland no. 15 in Ireland's World Cup training camp.

READ MORE: Devin Toner: Ireland boss Andy Farrell right to keep the faith

Kearney says that, given it is a specialist position - and such a vital one in Test rugby - it is important that the versatile O'Brien gets more exposure in the role.

O'Brien started at no 15 in seven games for Leinster this season - four at the beginning of the campaign, the latest appearance in the URC semi-final defeat to Munster - but has only started there once for Ireland, in last November's clash with Fiji.

"You'd probably like to see a number two who has had a lot of exposure to playing the position," said Kearney, who was Ireland's first choice full-back for so long.

"It's a very, very different position in top level, international rugby than it is at provincial level.

"If I had to guess I'd say Jimmy is number two at the moment, so I'd like to see him get opportunities in the summer Tests in terms of starting and finishing there.

"International rugby is a different game. The Champions Cup final is pitched at that level and we saw the importance of the position there - the kicking game becomes so much more important.

"If the opposition are kicking a lot, your backfield coverage and defence has to be right on the money, otherwise you're kicking under pressure.

"And as we saw in that final, when you're kicking under pressure, mistakes happen, you slice a ball, you kick it directly into touch and it's a big win for the opposition.

"So it's such a specialised and important position."

Leinster and Ireland's Jimmy O'Brien (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Jordan Larmour is a player who has experience of playing at full-back but he has not been selected for the training camp.

Larmour and Joey Carbery are the two players that Kearney feels most sympathy for having failed to make the cut.

"You've got to feel very sorry for both of them," he said. "They were two key, integral people over the last four years and the last 12, 18 months haven't gone their way.

"It's unlikely now that they will get an opportunity to impress to get on the plane, which is very difficult considering they were both at the last one and are still in what should be the peak of their career.

"It is difficult to come back from that. When you're a player in a situation like that, your confidence is on the floor, there is no-one you can talk to who can help you pick it back up, it's just up to yourself.

"The only way to do that is to start playing better rugby and to do that, you need to get opportunities - and at the moment neither of them are getting those opportunities."

Kearney believes that Munster's URC final triumph in Cape Town can only benefit Ireland as thoughts turn to the World Cup.

"I think it's definitely healthy," he said. "OK, Leinster didn't win but they still had two enormously successful seasons where some of the rugby played has been superb.

"It's great that you've another team there now who have tasted success and their players will bring a new confidence into Ireland camp now.

"You have to be happy for Munster. They had gone through a long, long period without trophies, you'd be delighted for the likes of Pete (O'Mahony), Earlsy (Keith Earls) and Conor Murray.

"I wouldn't have had them anywhere close to doing that three, four, five months ago, so they've turned it around enormously, they've done a great job.

"It can certainly only help Irish rugby that Munster won."

Kearney says that Leinster's Champions Cup final defeat will "sting" for a long time, but he insists that Leo Cullen's side must stick to their guns in their bid to put a fifth star on the jersey.

It is a mission that has seen the club lose three finals since their last triumph in 2018, including two losses on the spin to Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle.

Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour arrive to Ireland squad training during the 2022 Six Nations (©INPHO/Tom Maher)

For the second season in a row, La Rochelle pipped Leinster at the post with a late try. "It just shows that sometimes in sport the smallest margins can have the biggest impacts," said Kearney, who played in three final victories for the province.

"The manner in which they lost both Champions Cup finals in two years to the same opponents will hurt for an awful long time. But that's sport, that's why we love it.

"I know what has happened in the last two years will make them question their process but they've just got to keep doing what they've been doing.

"There's an awful lot of other factors at play - they didn't get to play their strongest team against Munster (in the URC semi-final defeat), which has the biggest impact. Last year against the Bulls, they were just off the back of losing the Champions Cup final. That also has a big impact.

"This year's final defeat will sting for a long time. You could argue that they should have come out in the second half and attacked a bit more but they weren't able to put themselves in good attacking positions.

"Some of the exits were very poor and one bad kick is a big turning point in these games, it gives the opposition a huge amount of momentum, it deflates your own team a little bit and maybe some questions come into your head and in the last 10 minutes, minds may have gone back to the last 10 minutes in Marseille last year.

"You have those thoughts subconsciously as a player in games and they probably had an impact, too."

Kearney's former team-mate Gordon D'Arcy said this week that Leinster should go to the market to recruit some marquee names in their bid to get over the line in Europe, especially now that Johnny Sexton has played his last game for the club.

"I'd be happy with what they have," said Kearney.

"But you could make an argument, I suppose, when you see the likes of Will Skelton and the damage that he has done single-handedly to Leinster on numerous occasions over the last four or five years.

"If I could get a player like that I certainly wouldn't say no!"


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