Rob Kearney wins European player of the year award

Ireland full-back Rob Kearney has been named as the European player of the year after helping Leinster to defend the Heineken Cup with a record-breaking victory over Ulster at Twickenham on Saturday.

Kearney started all nine matches in Europe this season, scoring six tries and a stunning drop goal in the narrow semi-final win over Clermont Auvergne as Leinster became the first club to defend the title since Leicester in 2002.

“An individual player is powerless without the support of his team-mates,” the 26-year-old Kearney said in a statement. “So I owe this to the Leinster squad, to the management and to all the backroom staff at the club.”

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Kearney will now prepare for Ireland’s three-Test tour of New Zealand in June after he was named in the squad yesterday.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has warned his side they have to “go for it” when they line up against the All Blacks. He named his 29-man squad to face the world champions in their own back yard, including a trio of uncapped players in the form of Ulster prop Declan Fitzpatrick and Munster duo Mike Sherry and Simon Zebo. Kidney also left four places in his squad available, with a second-row slot being held for Paul O’Connell as he recovers from a knee injury.

Ulster’s Chris Henry is the leading candidate to fill the back-row vacancy. The other gaps in the party are expected to be filled by Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson and Leinster scrum-half Isaac Boss.

Eleven of Leinster’s Heineken Cup-winning squad are selected, including centre and captain Brian O’Driscoll, who missed the Six Nations after a shoulder operation and recently underwent keyhole surgery on his knee.

But there is no place for Ulster centre Paddy Wallace, while wings Tommy Bowe (kidney) and Luke Fitzgerald (neck) miss out through injury. And while Kidney says the new faces in his squad have earned their place on the trip, he made it clear he will not be experimenting given the sheer scale of the challenge facing his side.

“It is a fantastic opportunity for them [uncapped players],” he said. “Going to New Zealand for a three-match tour, which Ireland have never done before, will be a great learning experience. But they’ve had to do it on the back of results because this isn’t the place for the faint of heart.”

The first Test is at Eden Park in Auckland on 9 June, with Rugby League Park in Christchurch and Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium the other venues on 16 and 23 respectively.

Ireland squad: Forwards: R Best (Ulster), S Cronin (Leinster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), S O’Brien (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), M Sherry (Munster), D Tuohy (Ulster), AN Other, AN Other, AN Other. Backs: D Cave (Ulster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), R Kearney (Leinster), F McFadden (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, captain), R O’Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster), AN Other.