Rob Kearney’s iconic Lions performance


Rob Kearney’s iconic Lions performance

Rob Kearney will never forget the summer of 2009.

Selected for his first British & Irish Lions Tour, the Ireland full-back travelled to South Africa as second choice for the No.15 jersey behind in-form Welshman Lee Byrne.

But from the moment he made his Test bow off the bench in the 37th minute of the series opening 26-21 defeat, Kearney was near flawless as he earned a starting berth for the second Test.

What happened next in Pretoria is now etched in Lions legend as Kearney delivered one of the all-time greatest individual performances in the tourists’ long and illustrious history.

Not only did Kearney score the Lions’ only try of the game, he produced an aerial masterclass in which he hardly put a foot wrong – as close to a perfect game as you can get.

While it ended in a heart-breaking 28-25 defeat, the Leinsterman continued his superb form a week later and ensured the Lions finished the Tour on a high with a famous 28-9 triumph.

Kearney toured again with the Lions in 2013 and was part of a series victory in Australia, but it is those two-and-half weeks four years earlier that he looks back on most fondly.

And in the latest entry in our new First, Last & Best series, Ireland’s most decorated rugby player picks out some of his favourite memories from his two Tours with the Lions.

Battle of Pretoria masterclass

“Of course the second Test was, for me, one of the greatest games of rugby I’ve ever played but it is still a team game and a team sport and we lost the series on that day,” says Kearney.

“There was definitely an element of, I was fully in my flow. There’s times when that happens in your career and you don’t fully understand why because if you did, you would try to replicate it every week.

“It just felt when I was on the field that I couldn’t do anything wrong.

“Unfortunately there’s only a few times in my career when that did happen but that was definitely one day in my career where I really felt, ‘You are close to playing your perfect game of rugby’.

“When I went over for that try in the sixth minute I was mostly just in shock that it had happened as the week before had all happened so quickly and all of a sudden you’re a Test try-scorer.

“It was incredible. My dad and my brother had just flown in the day before and they were sitting in the corner where I scored the try and you just remember little things like that.

“It was definitely one of ‘those games’ and when the first ten minutes are as positive and going as well as they were going for me you’re just in your flow.

“Thankfully for me, one of my – if not my biggest – strengths was my ability in the air and the South Africans kept kicking the ball to me and every time I saw the ball go up I licked my lips.”

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