Keenan claims a kick against New Zealand last year. Bryan Keane/INPHO
Level Head

Key man Hugo Keenan has made Ireland's number 15 shirt his own

The 25-year-old has continued to improve in the 15 months since his debut.

THE REGULARITY WITH which Hugo Keenan is presented to the media when he’s in Ireland camp is one small indicator of how steady and level-headed an influence the 25-year-old has become in a short space of time.

There’s never too much fuss when it comes to Keenan, whether it’s answering an unexpected question about colour blindness in rugby, as he did during yesterday’s online press conference, or sprinting flat out in the backfield to ensure the opposition don’t have space to kick into.

Keenan simply doesn’t seem to get flustered.

He only made his Ireland debut 15 months ago but fullback is now surely among the most straightforward of selection calls for head coach Andy Farrell. The Leinster man has started every Ireland game since his debut against Italy in October 2020. Last year, he made the number 15 shirt his own.

Former incumbent Rob Kearney recently stated his surprise at how quickly Keenan has taken to shining in one of the most difficult positions in Test rugby, but the man himself isn’t making a big deal about it.

“You get to know international rugby pretty quickly once you’re into it,” says Keenan. “It is that step up, it’s more physical, mistakes are punished, you can’t really get away with anything so I think it was pretty much straight away you realise it and it’s about embracing that and I suppose just trying to get more used to it and comfortable with it.

“It’s a testing challenge and it always will be but I suppose that’s the beauty of international rugby.”

As for his apparent lack of stress out on the pitch, Keenan reckons things might be ramped up in his second Six Nations campaign with full attendances allowed at stadiums.

hugo-keenan-and-conor-murray Keenan has become a key player for Ireland. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“What might have helped me was the fact there were no crowds at the start so it took that whole pressure off me, I felt,” said Keenan.

“It was probably easier to slowly adapt and ease my way into international rugby I think. Hopefully with a full crowd this weekend it’s going to be a bit more pressurised, that mental side of the game will be tested and trying to get the crowd behind you and get the energy going.

“It’s a different challenge from playing in an empty stadium but one you want to be involved in and look forward to and what you work for, to be involved in these games.”

One of the most impressive things with Keenan is how he continues to add strings to his bow as he goes.

The playmaking side of his game wasn’t as prominent early on but now he is making linebreaks and putting team-mates into space in every game.

Keenan plans to keep pushing his game to new frontiers.

“I’m definitely not resting on my laurels. It’s always based on continuing a lot of work-ons from last season I want to bring to this year. I’m trying to constantly improve.

“There is always competition in the squad and in Leinster chasing at your heels. I suppose opposition will always get to know you a bit more since you started playing. So there will be those challenges you will be coming up against as well that you have to deal with.”

No better man to handle them.

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