ON A DAY when Ireland’s back three were comprehensively outplayed by the England trio of Mike Brown, Anthony Watson and Jonny May, Dave Kearney was a shining light during a tough outing at Twickenham.

Harlequins fullback Brown and his wingers covered the backfield superbly cutting off Jonathan Sexton’s kicking options all afternoon as the Ireland fly-half struggled to find space in behind a ferocious and organised English defensive line.

Brown and Co dominated the aerial battle while all three made telling contributions with ball in hand. On the other hand, Tommy Bowe produced his worst 40 minutes in an Ireland shirt in living memory while Simon Zebo struggled to deal with Watson’s pace and footwork on several occasions in the first-half.

Despite limited attacking opportunities, Kearney emerged from the 21-13 defeat with great credit on the back of his high work rate and intelligent defensive reads.

The Leinster winger came off his wing to put in a thunderous man-and-ball hit on George Ford in the 31st minute before following up with another big tackle on Bath winger Watson a few phases later leading to an Irish penalty.

Kearney had a busy end to the half as he claimed Zebo’s Garryowen before bumping off Brown’s attempted tackle to get Ireland on the front foot once more.

Ireland struggled to match England in the air all afternoon but Kearney soared above Joe Launchbury to claim Sexton’s restart in the 47th minute after Ford had struck a penalty to increase his side’s lead to 15-3. The visitors needed to respond immediately with the left winger leading the way once more.

Kearney was beaten to a high ball by the imperious Brown in the 57th minute but he atoned for it a couple of phases later with a monstrous hit on the England No 15 after Ford and Watson line breaks had Ireland on the ropes.

“I suppose individually I went alright,” said Kearney on his performance on Saturday.
“Obviously, as a team, we didn’t go great. England came at us pretty hard and we didn’t deal with it very well but we were a lot better in the second half I thought.

“So, there were some positives. I think we got ourselves into some good positions and maybe just a few small things, handling errors and stuff like that let us down. We’ll definitely have a good look at it.”

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Kearney, who had not started a Test for Ireland in 18 months prior to the warm-up series, made a late charge into the 31-man World Cup squad on the back of a strong showing in pre-season, an eye-catching cameo against Scotland and a solid outing against Wales in Dublin. The 26-year-old now looks a shoo-in for a starting berth at the World Cup.

Kearney found attacking opportunities few and far between at England HQ but he did look sharp when the ball arrived his way. He could have had a try just before the break but Robbie Henshaw’s final pass forced him to check slightly with the try-line at his mercy following a sweeping move involving Sexton, Devin Toner and Jared Payne in the build-up.

“I could have definitely had a shot at it,” said the Louth man. “That pass was a bit behind me so, between Robbie’s pass, and maybe I was a bit flat too, that was probably the reason for that, but, like I said, there was definitely the space for it.”

The former Clongowes Wood student had sympathy for Zebo after Ford’s sublime cross-kick isolated the Munster man as Watson won the aerial duel to touch down early on.

“It’s a difficult situation,” he explained. “Especially when you’re going backwards for it and obviously the attacking team have the advantage when Watson had a good run up at it. It’s never nice when, as a winger or fullback, you get beaten like that.”

When May galloped over for what looked like his second try of the afternoon midway through the first half, it was shaping up to be a hellish afternoon in south-west London.
Thankfully, TMO Shaun Veldsman intervened ruling Tom Youngs’ final pass to be forward. It would have been a long way back from that and Ireland, to their credit, delivered a far better performance after the break.

It was a humbling experiencing for Ireland, but, with the warm-up series put to bed, and a World Cup opener against Canada on the horizon, Kearney was staying positive.

“We just need to play our own game. Attacking wise, we’re still good. As I said, we got ourselves into some good positions. Maybe just some small things, like a couple of passes weren’t probably as good as they should have been where we could have got some space down the edges. But I think the space was definitely there for us. We got into their 22 a couple of times and a few handling errors lets us down again.

“They were really good for the first 25 minutes and we were pretty poor. We let them attack us. We let them get out wide a couple of times, but we did have some positives to come out of it especially in the second-half. At half-time, we said we wanted to come out and play well and I think we did that.”

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The video review session will certainly be uncomfortable viewing for many of the Irish players, but Kearney should emerge with a glowing assessment.

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