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Leinster 15 Keenan's influence against Munster shows his growing skillset

The 24-year-old has been encouraged to get involved as a distributor.

HUGO KEENAN’S FIRST touch last weekend was exactly the kind of attacking contribution Leinster and Ireland have been encouraging him to make this season.

Both teams want their fullback to be a playmaker and distributor, along with nailing the usual backfield and aerial duties, and 24-year-old Keenan is happy to embrace a little more responsibility.

In this instance, Keenan [white below] sets up off out-half Ross Byrne following a Rónan Kelleher linebreak into the Munster 22.

1

As flanker Rhys Ruddock [red below] then runs a hard line to give Byrne a direct front-door option, Keenan bounces out the back.

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With Ruddock’s convincing run attracting Munster’s Damian de Allende, Keenan’s run challenges Joey Carbery – who is initially also worried about Ruddock – before the Leinster fullback releases centre Rory O’Loughlin into space.

Leinster have a clear try-scoring chance but Keith Earls’ excellent defence – sitting off O’Loughlin and then feinting to close on him before drifting off again – contributes towards a real missed opportunity.

Chance

Still, it’s a nice early involvement on the ball for Keenan, who soon shows more nice handling skills wide on the right to give Larmour time on the ball.

Later in the half, Keenan’s support line allows Josh van der Flier to offload to him for a clean linebreak, with the Leinster fullback showing fine awareness and decision-making to find Robbie Henshaw running another strong support line on his right shoulder.

HK

This example also illustrates Keenan’s outstanding work-rate as he gets around the corner having fielded a Munster kick and carried the ball just three phases earlier.

Keenan had several other nice passes in Leinster’s Guinness Pro14 final win.

The instance below sees him once again offer Byrne a back-door option, this time behind a two-man forward pod, and release a well-timed pass to allow Leinster to threaten up the right-hand side.

Pass

Former Ireland 7s international Keenan’s growing comfort as the second receiver was obvious last weekend and the 24-year-old is happy to be taking some of the burden off the likes of Byrne.

“Yeah, definitely trying to help out the 10s and centres as much as possible and organising those forwards. It happened a good bit on the weekend, I just found myself in those positions. Sometimes it just happens, sometimes you are in those positions.

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“I enjoy that side of the game. That is one thing I’d always refer back to my 7s days playing out-half for them. I got comfortable and worked on that a lot of the time in the 7s programme.

“It’s a big thing they drive here in Leinster and Ireland so it’s a good thing to get my hands on the ball as much as possible. Stu [Lancaster] also drives that anyone in the backline should be able to play any position and fill in wherever you can so you’ve got to be comfortable.

“It’s something I’m still working on and I’m nowhere near as good as some of the 10s in Leinster who do it.”

hugo-keenan-makes-a-break Keenan fires a pass during Leinster's win over Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Keenan did initially play at out-half during his school days in Blackrock College, where he wasn’t a star player and was more interested in football with Mount Merrion Youths FC.

He moved into the back three in fifth year and finally “kicked on” in rugby, with an All Blacks fullback as his role model.

“One guy who I always loved growing up was Ben Smith, the New Zealand fullback,” says Keenan. “He had a bit of everything didn’t he, that all-round game, so he was always someone I admired.

“I suppose that footballing fullback style that is more linked into Beauden Barrett and you see it more and more. You see Stuart Hogg filling in at 10, Elliott Daly and the likes. It’s something that if 15s can do it, it adds that extra bit and it’s always a big bonus so I’m just trying to work on it.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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