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Keenan a 'stable presence' as four-try O'Brien shines for Leinster

The 25-year-old pair both impressed as Leinster took Bath apart in the Champions Cup.

Jimmy O'Brien and Hugo Keenan after Leinster's win.
Jimmy O'Brien and Hugo Keenan after Leinster's win.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

HUGO KEENAN USED to be one of those players whose best work often went under the radar. That’s still true of some of his more unglamorous fullback duties but the 25-year-old is also now regularly bringing a heavy dose of razzle dazzle.

The 25-year-old Leinster fullback covers backfield space with consistent competence, sets his GPS unit abuzz with his repeated high-intensity efforts, makes his tackles, takes high balls, and hits rucks when he needs to.

But he is also now increasingly delivering the kind of exciting, influential attacking moments that are making him a complete fullback. 

There was more evidence yesterday as Leinster ran 10 tries past Bath in a 64-7 win to secure their place in the Champions Cup knock-out stages. Keenan scored one of them, a handy finish off Robbie Henshaw’s offload, and played a big part in a few others.

His catch-pass from right to left for left wing Jimmy O’Brien’s first try was a lovely flash of skill, while his deft and disguised short pass to Jordan Larmour later in the first half teed up Leinster’s right wing for a try.

Keenan beat seven defenders himself and ran for 150 metres in another excellent performance – the latest in a long, long string of them. He has become Mr Consistent for Ireland and Leinster, but not in a boring way. Keenan is Mr Consistent with a dash of class.

“Hugo has been great and he was a slightly late developer, as he has talked about himself in terms of when he came through from underage,” said Leinster head coach Leo Cullen after his side’s big win.

“But he has been a very stable presence for Leinster and Ireland over the last number of seasons.

“It’s good to see him improving, working on his game all the time. Hopefully, Hugo and a few others go into Ireland camp now and kick on and have a big Six Nations.”

robbie-henshaw-celebrates-as-jimmy-obrien-scores-a-try Jimmy O'Brien crossed for one of his four tries. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Keenan spent time with the Ireland 7s during his development and regularly points to it as being key in his progress into the 15s game. Interestingly, he was a team-mate of O’Brien’s in the Ireland 7s set-up.

25-year-old Kildare man O’Brien hasn’t yet been involved with Ireland in the 15s game but he continues to improve with Leinster, who have used him at fullback, outside centre, and on the wing in recent seasons.

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O’Brien has had plenty of good possession over the last two weeks in the hammerings of Montpellier and Bath, but he has made good use of it all by scoring a try against the French side and then bagging four of them at The Rec yesterday.

While the likes of Keenan now head away on Ireland duty, flying out to Portugal on Thursday for a pre-Six Nations camp, O’Brien is one of many Leinster players who will be aiming to impress back at the province.

“Jimmy scored his four tries but some of his defensive work as well, like the one he hunted down in the corner here was phenomenal, another one over on the far side, so it was a great game for Jimmy,” said Cullen.

“That builds on last week, sort of stepping up to this next level and it’s really pleasing. There was lots of good stuff in there from lots of individuals.

“The challenge for us is that we’ll have a slightly different group as we turn our attention to Cardiff next week in the URC and a number of guys will go away into Ireland camp.

“One of the positives for us of having so many games postponed is that now we have more games during the Six Nations window which is going to be a great opportunity for a number of guys who are probably sitting at home at the minute a little bit frustrated at how some of the tight selection calls have gone for them in recent weeks. It’s good to have this block of games to look forward to.”

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Murray Kinsella

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