Hugo Keenan backs Ireland's new crop to banish World Cup curse

Hugo Keenan backs Ireland’s new generation to banish Rugby World Cup curse…and Leinster star full-back warns Andy Farrell’s side can get even better in France

  • Ireland have never made it past the quarter-finals of a Rugby World Cup
  • Andy Farrell’s men arrive in France as the No1-ranked team in the world
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

Ireland’s grim history at the World Cup is well documented but the class of 2023 believe they can lift a 36-year hex at rugby’s global showpiece.

There is a new generation which don’t feel the burden of history. There are 18 players in Andy Farrell’s squad which are appearing at their maiden tournament.

Hugo Keenan is one of them. The 27-year-old has made the No15 jersey his own at international level ever since he made his debut against Italy in October 2020. Keenan has won another 30 caps and has been ever-present at full-back for club and country.

He has brought Rob Kearney’s defensive reliability in the backfield as well as plenty of attacking elan with ball in hand.

Keenan is set to feature in a full-strength backline ahead of Saturday’s Pool B opener against Romania and Farrell’s side are keen to lay down an early World Cup marker in Bordeaux.

Hugo Keenan believes Ireland still have room for improvement despite being one of the favourites for the Rugby World Cup

The 27-year-old has made the No15 jersey his own at international level ever since he made his debut against Italy in October 2020.

‘We’ve been building nicely during the summer preparing for this, not only in pre-season block but for a couple of years,’ the Leinster full-back said.

‘I think we’re ready for it. I don’t think we’ve shown our best in the Test games leading up to the World Cup so far.

‘There’s been some good bits, but then a lot of work-ons.

‘We’re excited for this weekend and ready to show an improvement on what’s gone before. 

‘We want to put in a performance that we know we have in ourselves and if we can lay down a statement doing that, that would be great.’ Ireland arrive at the tournament as the world’s top-ranked team on the back of a stellar 24 months on Farrell’s watch.

A record 13 successive victories featuring a historic 2-1 series win in New Zealand, a victory against the Springboks and a Grand Slam have marked out Farrell’s troops as the team to beat in France.

The World Cup is the real acid test, however. Ireland’s recent scare against Samoa in Bayonne a recent warning on that front.

‘You have to respect all the teams in the competition,’ said Keenan. ‘I suppose you have to gain a bit of confidence from what we’ve built on in the past by beating the top teams around and let that build your confidence and belief going into it. 

Ireland secured a historic series win in New Zealand 12 months ago, winning 2-1

Keenan scored in the deciding Test against the All Blacks, which Ireland won 32-22

‘But you can’t take anything for granted. A lot of teams will have improved in this big block they’ve had together, so we’ve got to take it up a notch ourselves.’

‘Every team is going to have improved and going to have added little bits and pieces to their game. We’ve got to do the same to ours.’

Ireland face a Romanian side ranked 18 places below them in the global pecking order at Stade de Bordeaux and the Mighty Oaks are widely tipped to struggle in Pool B.

Ireland have been shocked by so-called minnows in past World Cups and Keenan insists there will be no complacency against their opponents this weekend.

‘I wouldn’t have known too much about them but you have to do your homework on them, you have to get up to speed pretty quickly,’ he said.

‘We’ve known the schedule of games for a while now so we’ve been able to prepare for this for a bit. 

‘They’re a big powerful pack, they back their set piece, a few physical boys in the back line as well. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re going to throw the kitchen sink at us.’ 

Andy Farrell’s side arrive in France as the No1-ranked team in the world

Ireland completed a Six Nations Grand Slam this year for only the fourth time in history

Farrell will be without Dan Sheehan, Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne for the tournament opener as all three forwards continue to rehabilitate from injuries. 

But the Ireland head coach is primed to recall a host of frontliners for the opening pool meeting as the Six Nations champions look to get their campaign off to a flying start in southern France. 

‘Everybody wants to put up their hand and be selected and there’s a bit of excitement around the place now that we’re here and everybody wants to be involved,’ said Keenan. 

‘It’s a competitive group and you’ve seen some of the performances individuals have put in over the last three games and lads have been playing well and sticking their hands up and training has gone up another level recently because everybody wants to be involved in this game and going forward as well.’ 

Keenan and the rest of the Ireland squad will be glued to tomorrow evening’s World Cup opener in Paris as France and the All Blacks clash at Stade de France. 

Ireland were thrashed 46-14 by New Zealand in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Four years earlier they were knocked out at the same stage after losing to Argentina

Should Ireland progress to the quarter-finals in the coming weeks, they are likely to face either the tournament hosts or New Zealand in the knockout stages and Friday night’s result will shed some light on that front. 

‘It’s a tough one to predict, isn’t it?’ Keenan added. ’It’s an exciting opening game. I think everyone will be glued to the TVs on Friday night. 

‘It’s annoying it’s so late, nine o’clock [local time], I’ll nearly be watching it from bed. 

‘But no, it’s a great opening game and I’m looking forward to watching it.’

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