It was as though Joe Schmidt had actually read the script. It was his day but it was also to be Clongowes’ day. When Dave Kearney (OC’07) entered the fray in the 55th minute to make his international bow against Samoa last Saturday, he joined his brother Rob (OC’04), Fergus McFadden (OC’05) and the evergreen Gordon D’Arcy (OC’98) in a backline that honed its talent in the famed purple and white.
Following several seasons of close calls, Dave finally reaped the rewards of a prolific career in the blue of Leinster. Despite being on the fringe of the 2012 Six Nations squad (he was on the bench for the Welsh visit), Dave has had to wait patiently while others have been thrust into action. Before injury, Simon Zebo threatened to light up the 2013 campaign and ultimately earned a Lions call-up. At just 24 years of age however there are many caps that await Dave, especially after this performance. While many bemoaned the apparent lack of depth in the Irish set-up, Dave reinvigorated the faith many had lost in the squad’s future. Replacing the esteemed Tommy Bowe on the right wing, Dave plundered two tries, expertly dotting down in the right hand corner despite the attentions of Samoa’s Autagavaia for his first (“a try that was made in Clane”; Tony Ward) and also finishing off a sweeping team move in the closing stages.
Not to be outdone, Fergus McFadden drew widespread praise for his effective performance on the opposite wing. As has become his trademark, McFadden’s energy was unrelenting. Despite his teammates struggling to put him away on the outside channels, Fergus constantly beat the first would-be tackler and was solid in contact, ensuring that the ball was always recycled when in his possession. Unlucky not to claim a first-half try, Fergus did touch down following some good work by Gordon D’Arcy. Having been the utility cover for quite some time, Fergus is finally in pole position on the left-wing – and deservedly so.
The veterans of the Irish brigade, D’Arcy and Rob Kearney also took to the field with a point to prove. Kearney the elder, a Lions tourist during the summer, is keen to re-assert himself on the international stage having been cast into the shadow of the invincible Leigh Halfpenny in recent months. With Brian O’Driscoll set to depart the international stage in May, Rob is primed to assume the spiritual leadership mantle that will have been vacated. D’Arcy meanwhile lined out in the Irish midfield for the 51st time alongside O’Driscoll in what is a test rugby record. While Kearney’s place is assured, the claims of Ulster’s Luke Marshall for the no.12 jersey are getting louder by the day and it will be interesting to see who gets the nod to feature against the Wallabies. D’Arcy’s defensive work cannot be ignored however, while he also had a role to play in several Irish tries at the weekend. Furthermore, it is important to note that D’Arcy has provided the platform that has allowed O’Driscoll to thrive over the past 10 years – some days, O’Driscoll isn’t half the player without him. An experienced campaigner, don’t bet against D’Arcy staving off the competition and being in the thick of the action alongside his celebrated centre partner once again on Saturday.
Rumour has it that the Womba will be introduced at the Aviva…