This is not what we wanted to see. Just over one week out from Ireland's opening Six Nations game, Rob Kearney made his return to action tonight after his recent injury layoff. The fullback did not join up with the rest of the Ireland squad for their training camp in Portugal, with Joe Schmidt preferring to see the player test his fitness against Scarlets in the Guinness PRO14.
Despite the relative depth of the Irish squad, fullback is a bit of a problem position. There is a lack of experience in the '15' role once Kearney is removed from the equation, so the Ireland head coach will no doubt have hoped to see the player look at his best upon his return.
In reality, the 32-year old was less than impressive. He started the game in a lethargic fashion, missing a number of tackles and looking generally out of sorts.
Rob Kearney has missed 3 tackles in opening 13 minutes not like him
— Aaron Clarke (@Aaron_c91) January 25, 2019
#LEIvSCA it’s as if Rob Kearney wants to be excluded from selection for next week....missed tackles, knock-on! Come on Rob!
— Dr Peter Robbins (@Robbins1Peter) January 25, 2019
While the game was short in quality in the first half, Kearney would soon be punished for his errors. He missed a relatively straightforward tackle on Dan Davis 10 minutes into the second half, which would ultimately result in a try for the visitors.
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) January 25, 2019
Rob Kearney has been shocking tonight. #LEIvSCA
— El_Poderoso (@ronanodowd) January 25, 2019
Great feet by Dan Davies! Made Rob Kearney look like he wasn’t there.
— Darryl Jenkins (@Darryl_Jenkins) January 25, 2019
Hope for Rob Kearney that Joe Schmidt ain't watching #LEIvSCA - another missed tackle. Scarlets get on the scoreboard finally. 10-7. Jake Ball carrying incredibly well on his return. Game is a mess.
— Hawkeye Sidekick (@hawkeyesidekick) January 25, 2019
Rob Kearney clearly not right missing tackles all through the game #LEIvSCA
— Elaine Colfer (@E_Colfer) January 25, 2019
Despite an uneasy closing period, Leinster would ultimately run out winners on a scoreline of 22-17.
Kearney was withdrawn from the game with around 15 minutes left on the clock, and it was certainly not one of his finer performances. While you would have expected a bit of rust upon his return, this seemed the showing of a player who had not returned to full fitness. That will be a major worry for Joe Schmidt ahead of England's visit to the Aviva Stadium next week, with the fullback position now a potential area of weakness.
Jordan Larmour deputised for his provincial teammate during the November international against Argentina, putting in a less than an assured display. His ability under the high ball is certainly questionable, an area where Kearney had made his name over the last decade or so.
Should Larmour start next week, one would assume that he will face a barrage of high balls directed towards him by the English in the early stages.
To see Kearney play 65 minutes was encouraging, but his display was not. He is going to need to show a lot of improvement over the next eight days, or there will certainly be an area on the pitch for England to target in our Six Nations opener.