Six Nations: Kearney in shadow of Halfpenny

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IRELAND full-back Rob Kearney concedes he has slipped behind Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny in their Lions duel after struggling to showcase his attacking skills in the RBS Six Nations.

The Celtic rivals are expected to embark on the tour to Australia but Halfpenny has a potentially unassailable lead in the race to win the number 15 jersey for the Test series.

The 24-year-old’s man of the match displays against France and Italy have helped to haul Wales into title contention heading into the final weekend.

Kearney won three Lions caps in South Africa four years ago but could yet miss out on the tour should coach Warren Gatland prefer Scotland’s Stuart Hogg.

Kearney said: “Leigh’s goal-kicking alone has made him the standout full-back of the Six Nations. Wales have won a huge amount of games with his kicking skills. Last weekend against France was only my seventh start this season because of injury. I think it’s around six, seven or eight games that you start getting back into the run of things.”

Saturday’s clash with Italy presents a chance to impress Gatland, but the 26-year-old believes the Kiwi will look beyond the Six Nations to inform his opinion. “It crosses your mind that this weekend is the last major stage to impress Lions selectors, but selection will have been going on throughout the last year,” he said. “Although a huge amount of emphasis has been put on the Six Nations, it’s not the be-all and end-all.”