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'He was immense' - Hugo Keenan shines again for Ireland in Twickenham win

The 25-year-old continues to grow as a force in Test rugby.

Keenan with his parents, Paul and Avril.
Keenan with his parents, Paul and Avril.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

AS THE ENGLISH high balls began raining down from the London sky, it was really no surprise to see Hugo Keenan looking so calm.

The 25-year-old has rarely appeared to be anything but composed in this Test career so far.

Keenan wasn’t able to retain every single one of them under the intense English pressure, but he delivered for Ireland when it really mattered.

“It was tough back there,” said Keenan after Ireland’s 32-15 win. “When you’ve Freddie Steward and Sam Simmonds… two great kick-chasers, Freddie is brilliant in the air and it’s as tough as it can get out there. Some went my way, a few didn’t.

“It’s always about focusing on the next one. If I lose one in the ruck or get stripped and knock-on, it’s just about what you’re going to do next. There’s no real point dwelling on it because they kept coming my way, didn’t they?”

Keenan said that last part with a wry smile.

“It wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to me,” he said of England’s aerial game. “I suppose a lot of sides are playing that pragmatic rugby at the moment. Like when when he played against Sarries, even Munster sometimes.”

Keenan said that the new part was fielding kicks in front of 81,000 people in a roaring Twickenham but he passed this latest test of his international rugby credentials with flying colours.

hugo-keenan-with-freddie-steward Keenan fields a high ball. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There were many highlights for him away from fielding kicks. There was a sensational offload down the right to Johnny Sexton as he counter-attacked in the first half, as well as a beautiful delayed pass to Garry Ringrose the phase before Jack Conan’s crucial try.

Keenan took his first-half try superbly, working typically hard off the ball to swing from left to right and be alert to the possibility of Jamison Gibson-Park’s quick tap penalty.

Keenan was heavily involved for Ireland and was top of their ball-carrying charts with 18, while his passing game included putting Tadhg Beirne into a hole in the English defence for a linebreak.

“The guys that haven’t played in front of a crowd, the likes of Hugo Keenan, I thought he was immense at the back,” said Ireland boss Andy Farrell post-match.

“It isn’t just his high ball stuff, he’s unbelievably fit, he was all over the field.”

So there was lots of good stuff on a personal level, but Keenan found Ireland’s win a “frustrating” one overall.

How so?

“It probably just wasn’t clicking,” explained Keenan. “We probably didn’t respect the 14 men of England enough, they made it difficult.

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jonathan-sexton-james-lowe-garry-ringrose-and-jamison-gibson-park-celebrate-as-hugo-keenan-scores-a-try Ireland celebrate Keenan's first-half try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We tried to play to space because it was opening up for us, but we didn’t execute well enough. We were a small bit off accuracy-wise and we probably were getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

“England made it difficult and full credit to them, they put our lineout and set-piece under pressure and played that sort of pressure game. They didn’t run it much, they kicked a lot of balls and made life hard for us. We did as well.

“At the same time, I’m just delighted to get the win. That’s the main thing, we closed out the game well and saw it through.”

With that all in mind, Keenan believes that the best is yet ahead of this Ireland group.

They’ve added a bonus-point win in Twickenham to their list of achievements this season and there’s a Triple Crown on the line for them this Saturday against Scotland. Keenan said they can continue to get better.

“We’ve shown it in small glimpses but it’s our consistency and we definitely haven’t clicked yet, especially in this Six Nations, there’s a lot more from us. We’ve been showing it in patches and there’s such a belief and confidence in this group in what we’re doing. We’re just a little percent or two off from producing that.

“It would be so special. What is it? Two Triple Crowns in the last 12 years? To do it in front of a home crowd, I can’t remember the last time the lads have lifted silverware in the Aviva, so it’ll be incredible.”

There’s no doubt that Keenan will be in the thick of in Dublin.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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