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Keenan out to prove point as Ireland prepare for Italy

Keenan out to prove point as Ireland prepare for Italy

Hugo Keenan said competitors are knocking on the door for his Ireland jersey but is determined to prove he deserves to keep it in Round 3 of the Guinness Six Nations.

The 25-year-old has started 18 straight internationals since his 2020 debut, playing 80 minutes in all but two, and his high-intensity pedigree in Ireland’s sevens team has been a perfect match for Andy Farrell’s style.

Keenan’s exhaustive coverage of the backfield earned him a ‘Mr Dependable’ moniker but he admits he was not at his best in the Round 2 defeat to France, where he impeded James Ryan for France’s opening try.

Keenan said: “We were only a few points away from beating the French who are the form side in world rugby. I don’t think we played to our potential and I have more in me as well.

“There aren’t many tougher places at the moment with the French being in form and they showed it in the autumn there beating New Zealand at home and then Italy last week.”

Keenan showed composure in the second half by beating two defenders in a line break, but the result ended Ireland’s Grand Slam bid, and Farrell has said he may introduce some fresh faces for the home game against Italy on Sunday.

The explosive Mack Hansen could move to full-back, while Michael Lowry could also be handed his debut after a magnificent season as Ulster’s No.15, making 562 meters in the pool stages of this year’s European Champions Cup.

Keenan said: “If [Farrell] was to come and say something, I suppose you’d naturally be disappointed. You always want to play, to keep your hand in the team and be involved and keep playing for your country.

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“There’s always going to be competition and people knocking on the door and there is at the moment so listen; if that happens it is what it is, but I’m hoping to go again against Italy.”

The Stade de France gave Keenan his first international in front of a full crowd due to Covid restrictions, and he received a daunting welcome from 79,115 fans waving tricolour flags for Les Blues, who are chasing their first Guinness Six Nations title since 2010.

Keenan said: “That was my first taste of what international rugby is really like away from home. It was straight into the deep end, very loud, that sort of party atmosphere.

“It probably helped me at the start of my Irish career that I was coming in with empty stadiums, easing me in with the pressure environment but it’s why you want to be playing rugby. To be playing in these matches and those sorts of environments.”