The disappointment of Ireland’s Six Nations has been heightened by the reality that for all their injuries, they still manoeuvred themselves into winning positions against England, Scotland and France in the past three games.
Instead they enter the final weekend locked in a three-way battle to escape a first wooden spoon since 1998, although victory could be enough to seal a third-place finish in a tournament that has been of low calibre.
“My message to the team going to Rome is ‘win’. There’s a big difference between finishing third and finishing sixth. That’s a big jump there,” Kearney said.
“There are a lot of guys in the team who haven’t really experienced what winning for their country feels like.
“Winning Six Nations games outweighs winning big Heineken Cup matches for your province enormously,” he added.
“We’re looking to rebuild, get back on track and start competing for silverware again.
“Where we finish this year will have a huge bearing on that.
“It’s about finishing on a high, finishing with a win and getting this team back on track.
“To an extent it’s unfair to judge the performance of the team and management on this Six Nations.
“But when you look at the likes of the Scotland game when players just didn’t finish things off, we need to be held accountable for that.
“Against France we produced an improved performance and played quite well, but injuries cost us a little bit at the end and that’s maybe the time to allow us more leeway in terms of analysis.
“But we should have beaten Scotland and didn’t, so that’s a day when we should have been judged more harshly.”p Former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio has been signed up by BT Sport to become its rugby union expert when its channels launch in the summer.
Meanwhile, Conor Murray insists Ireland must take heart from their performances to date even if results have left them battling at the wrong end of the table after a frustrating championship.
Frustratingly, they have been in a position to win the last three matches in spite of contending with an ever-lengthening injury list, only to throw it away.
“I don’t think people need to freak out. There’s no issue of confidence within the team. We’re not getting smashed by teams and are creating opportunities,” said Murray