Joe Schmidt has tipped Rob Kearney to keep extending his Test career after storming back into vintage form as Ireland swept to the Grand Slam.
The 31-year-old full-back starred as Ireland overwhelmed England 24-15 at Twickenham on Saturday to claim just their third-ever Six Nations clean sweep.
Head coach Schmidt told Kearney back in November 2016 that he needed a big game against New Zealand in Chicago to safeguard his Ireland place.
Kearney delivered as Ireland prevailed 40-29, and has not looked back since. He now stands alongside Rory Best as the two men in Irish history to have claimed two Grand Slams.
And Schmidt has backed the 83-cap full-back to continue performing at the top of his powers.
Asked why he continues to stick with Kearney, Schmidt replied: “I don’t go back to Rob Kearney, I go forward to Rob Kearney. Rob Kearney goes forward.
“Rob still has a future with us. You don’t pick people if you don’t think they have a future with you.
“I am not sure what more people want from Rob Kearney, 140 running metres against Scotland in possession.”
Kearney’s high-ball contest forced Anthony Watson into the spilled ball that allowed Garry Ringrose to claim the opening try on Saturday, as Ireland added a Grand Slam triumph to their 1948 and 2009 successes.
“I thought the kick was a little too far, and that fella Kearney wasn’t even going to get into that contest. He gets into that contest when he doesn’t have a right to be there,” Schmidt said.
“That guy is a catalyst for other guys around him.
“As represented by the four Six Nations titles he has, Rob must have some idea of what he is doing.”
Johnny Sexton has revealed, meanwhile, that Ireland – for the first time under Schmidt – targeted a Grand Slam even before the Six Nations kicked off.
British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton conceded Schmidt’s taskmaster methods can drive Ireland’s players “demented”, but admitted too that without that relentlessness there would have been no clean sweep.
“It’s probably the first time we’ve been allowed speak about the Grand Slam before the campaign,” Sexton said.
“It was blatantly obvious to the older guys – Keith Earls, myself, Rob Kearney, Rory Best – that we wanted to win a Grand Slam.
“We have always been very process-driven so we spoke about it at the start and then parked it. And went game by game. Literally. Even this week we didn’t speak about a Grand Slam, we just spoke about putting in our best performance. We knew we had to get a result against that side.
“Joe (Schmidt) keeps you on your toes. How do I put this nicely? At times during the week you are driven demented with him but you know he is doing it for a reason – putting pressure on you in training, at meetings to make sure on Saturday every box is ticked, to make sure all the prep is done.
“He is an incredible coach, his record with Irish teams speaks for itself. He was three years with Leinster and got to six finals. Five years with Ireland and we have won three championships and a Grand Slam.”