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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan.
# London Calling
'There's more in us' - Keenan says Ireland can hit another gear against England
Saturday’s Six Nations meeting in London will be the fullback’s first taste of a full Twickenham.

LAST UPDATE | Mar 8th 2022, 6:30 PM

HUGO KEENAN HAS visited Twickenham twice as a player, but is yet to get the full experience.

His first taste of the famous ground came back in 2018, during his days in Sevens rugby. A lot had changed by the time he was lining out for Ireland for an Autumn Nations Cup meeting in November 2020. Keenan was just four caps into his Test career and was learning his trade in strange, alien conditions.

The Covid pandemic meant Twickenham was empty as Eddie Jones’ side powered to an 18-7 win against a flat Ireland team, who fell to a fourth consecutive defeat to England. It was a difficult night for Keenan, the young fullback beaten in the air by Johnny May for the home side’s opening try and kept under heavy pressure throughout.

“It was one of my first games, Caelan’s (Doris) first games,” Keenan says.

It was a big learning curve for me. I remember starting fullback, I came off about 60 minutes in for Jacob. You’re always tested aerially against England, they’ll put up a lot of contestable balls and they have a range of kickers in their backline. It’s the same again this week. They’re obviously a very physical side as well, their pack are big. 

“I suppose there were a lot of learnings from that. I’ve played them since, we obviously beat them in the Aviva (2021) since and I think we took in some of those learnings, but again that wasn’t the perfect performance either and I think we’ve come a long way as a squad since then.”

Keenan himself has come a long way, too. In the two games following that Twickenham defeat, he briefly relocated to the wing as Jacob Stockdale moved into fullback.

hugo-keenan-catches-a-ball-in-the-air Craig Mercer / INPHO Keenan was in the early days of his Test career on his last visit to Twickenham. Craig Mercer / INPHO / INPHO

He then reverted back to 15 for the 2021 Six Nations and quickly established himself as a key fixture in Andy Farrell’s team, starting 12 consecutive games at fullback before being rested for the win over Italy last time out, as Ulster’s Mike Lowry stepped in for an impressive, two-try display on his Test debut.

“Mikey went great, didn’t he?’ Keenan continues.

“He’s electric and he got to show that. It was great for him. I’m sure the lads have been saying it before, but he’s such a good guys, such a gent, and he’s been playing great rugby for Ulster. So in fairness to him, he deserved his shot and he took it. He got his two tries and you saw with all the smiles on the faces of the lads, how much it meant to A; him, but also the whole team. 

It was great to get another lad another debut and it also adds to the depth in the squad. If you look at any position there is always going to be competition, and I think it’s a healthy thing to have. There’s six or seven back three players in here and we’re all chomping at the bit really, all of us trying to putting our hands up and take that jersey so it’s definitely healthy and it’s great to have.” 

Despite Lowry’s strong showing against 13-man Italy, Keenan is well-placed to come back into the team and finally experience a packed Twickenham.

“They’ll have different threats, England. They are a different side, they’ve obviously improved over the last two to three games and they are building momentum. Just like us they are trying to keep their title hopes alive and it’s must-win for both teams.

“There’s been a good buzz in camp since we came in on Sunday. Even last week as well, people are excited. These are the weeks you want to be involved in and it’s a huge challenge over there in Twickenham with that crowd.

“It will be a tough one but we’re ready for it, we’ve been building well for it. We’ve got a bit of work to do this week but it’s all leading up to that and we’re ready to go.

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“I still don’t think we are at our (full) potential and that’s the exciting part. There’s more in us. We’ve been showing it in glimpses, but it’s about consistency.” 

Keenan added that the squad have welcomed news of Johnny Sexton’s new contract, which was confirmed by the IRFU earlier today.

“Brilliant, I heard the news this morning. He’s such an important player, an important leader and to have him here until the World Cup… although he’s getting old, he’s still got it, in fairness.”

Comedian Michael Fry is our special guest on this week’s episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness. Joining host Seán Burke, Eimear Considine and Murray Kinsella, he chats about his family’s rugby background and his short-lived playing days, before using his musical ear to rank the anthems of each Guinness Six Nations team. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

The42 / SoundCloud

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