Leinster academy’s Keenan out to top U20 ever-present status with world medal

John Fallon reports from Manchester

WING HUGO KEENAN is one of just two players — flanker Greg Jones is the other — to have started all four games for Ireland in their march to tomorrow’s World Rugby U20 Championship final against England [KO 7pm, TG4].

Keenan dotted down in the win over Georgia. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

Indeed, the UCD flyer will become the only player to start all ten games this year for the U20s, having also featured in the side for each of the matches in the Six Nations.

And, having turned 20 last Saturday, he’s hoping for a belated birthday present tomorrow by helping Ireland go all the way and claim the title.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Keenan. “It’s been a good campaign so far, so hopefully we can go one more step and do the job on England.

“We didn’t have that much of a preparation into Six Nations, so we took a bit of time to get going. We are on a good run of form now. We have won seven in a row.

“It has been really good. We are starting to gel more as a team in each game. Hopefully we can do the job at the weekend.”

Keenan powers through a tackle in the win over New Zealand. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

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The turning point in Ireland’s year was when they came from 20-6 down early in the second-half to beat England 26-20 in Newcastle in the Six Nations.

And while both teams are much-changed from encounter, Keenan said that win is a boost heading into tomorrow’s decider at the AJ Bell Stadium.

“We can take that experience and hopefully use that and it might give us a mental edge over them,” said the Blackrock College alumnus.

“To come back and beat them was pretty special. They have a changed team, a lot of players back and released from clubs and they will be a lot stronger this time,” said the 2014 Leinster Schools Senior Cup winner, who is now studying Commerce in UCD.

Rugby wasn’t always Keenan’s first choice and for a time it looked like it might be in soccer that he made the grade.

“I would have played a lot of football growing up, soccer with Mount Merrion mostly. I would have played that, I was never really great at the rugby. All the way up I was on the fourths in second year and thirds in third year, so I have had to work my way up.

Keenan has earned a place in Leinster’s academy. Source: Camerasport/Dave Howarth/INPHO

“The breakthrough came in fifth year mostly. I played for the senior seconds side and had a good year then. And then I made the Senior Cup side in sixth year in my final year.

“We went on to win that so there is a lot of players who were on the Irish U20s last year who were in that, like Joey Carbery, Nick Timoney, Connor Oliver, Jeremy Loughman. It was a strong side so I got to play with a few top players. It was a good experience,” added Keenan, who is heading into the Leinster academy next season after a year in the sub-academy.

He might well have a World Championship medal in his pocket by then, in addition to his run of having started every game for the Irish U20s this season.

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