Dave Kearney will go into battle against Wales on Saturday knowing that he could hardly have landed a tougher final World Cup audition.
With the countdown continuing to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt’s 31-man World Cup squad announcement next week, Leinster wing Kearney is among those hoping to make a statement in a tournament warm-up Test at the Aviva Stadium.
The game sees Kearney making a first international start since Ireland clinched RBS 6 Nations title glory against France in Paris almost 18 months ago.
A strong performance could ultimately see him win the vote above the likes of Ulster’s Andrew Trimble, and Kearney said most of the squad will be feeling the nerves as they wait for the phone call from Schmidt on Sunday
“One of the lads joked about turning the phone off for the day and just showing up at Carton House the next morning,” he laughed.
Kearney will have his hands full on Saturday, lining up opposite juggernaut Wales wing George North, who returns to rugby union’s big stage after suffering three concussions last season.
North has not played since March, but his comeback will see him win his 50th Wales cap, while also becoming the youngest player of all-time at 23 years and 138 days to reach that half-century landmark for a single country.
A proven Test match performer of the highest class, North will also look to put down a marker, and potentially add to his 22 Test match tries in Wales colours.
“I have faced George a few times,” Kearney said.
“He is one of the best wings in the world, but at the same time it brings out the best in me. You always want to test yourself against the best.
“You have got to keep him in as tight as you can and not give him much space. He is very fast when he is going, so you can’t afford to give him much space.”
Ireland beat Wales 35-21 in an opening warm-up clash three weeks ago, but both teams are unrecognisable from that game, with Wales showing 12 changes – wing Alex Cuthbert, centre Scott Williams and flanker Justin Tipuric are the solitary starting XV survivors – and Ireland making nine switches.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” added eight times-capped Kearney.
“Joe has been keeping everyone on their toes, and pre-season has been really tough. There has been a lot of gym work, speed work and fitness work – we’ve all been training really hard.
“This is kind of like a fresh start for me, and it is about trying to play well when you get the chance.”