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disappointed Hugo Keenan: ‘If I had my time back, I would have held on to the ball against France'

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Ireland's Hugo Keenan shows his disappointment following last Saturday's Six Nations defeat to France. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's Hugo Keenan shows his disappointment following last Saturday's Six Nations defeat to France. Photo: Sportsfile

Irish rugby stars Hugo Keenan and Stacey Flood have been unveiled as Energia’s new rugby ambassadors and will represent their multiple rugby partnerships from grassroots right through to the international stage. This season Energia is helping fans play their part and learn about how to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious through its Ireland’s Greenest Fan campaign.

Irish rugby stars Hugo Keenan and Stacey Flood have been unveiled as Energia’s new rugby ambassadors and will represent their multiple rugby partnerships from grassroots right through to the international stage. This season Energia is helping fans play their part and learn about how to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious through its Ireland’s Greenest Fan campaign.

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Ireland's Hugo Keenan shows his disappointment following last Saturday's Six Nations defeat to France. Photo: Sportsfile

Not content with totally detaching themselves from the disappointment of the previous couple of days, Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw met up on Monday to watch back Ireland’s defeat to France.

As if to brace themselves for harsh realities that awaited in the video footage, the trio went for a dip in the bitterly cold Irish Sea before doing their own mini-review of what went wrong in Paris.

“We went through it together, it’s always good to bounce thoughts and ideas off people,” Keenan says.

“To be honest, you just want to get the review over and done with, and move on quickly.”

For Keenan, it was a chance to relive his role in the endgame, and as much as he would rather stick pins in his eyes, he was the first to admit that he felt he made a mistake by kicking the ball rather than running it back.

With 30 seconds left, France’s replacement scrum-half Maxime Lucu box-kicked way downfield, which allowed Ireland one final roll of the dice.

However, rather than counterattack with possession, Keenan opted to put up a Garryowen for Andrew Conway, which he was unable to win. And that was that.

It has been eating Keenan up ever since.

“They kicked it to us, and I was glad they did,” he says, reliving the moment.

“We thought we had a chance. The call came (from Conway) to kick it back – but, ultimately, I was the one who did it, so I have to take responsibility.

“I think the reason it was a poor kick was because the second I decided to do it, I was like ‘Oh no. I shouldn’t be doing this’.

“That’s why I sort of half pulled out of the kick. If I had put up a good one, Andrew Conway is one of the best in the world chasing them, we could easily have regained the ball.

“It probably wasn’t the right decision but if you commit 100pc to it, it might have come off. I think that was more the issue. I didn’t commit fully.

“I was fairly gutted afterwards, I’m not gonna lie. Obviously, if I had my time back, I would have held on to the ball.”

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Even though there was nothing obvious on in the backfield, launching a contestable kick was a risky decision, but it’s one Keenan is eager to ensure he learns from.

“It was a tough situation,” he continues. “The French had a good
kick-chase. I caught it on the 22, so it would have been a difficult situation anyway, but I suppose I would have just carried it back.

“I don’t think anything was hugely on. Maybe try counterattack, gain as much ground and get into our rhythm, and we could have had one final crack at it.

“With defences these days, it’s obviously very hard to score in the first place, but it’s also very hard to run 60-80 metres with the ball and score.”

That was one of many moments every Irish player will wish they could replay, but it is ruthless at the top level, and the likes of Keenan found that out the hard way.

For all that the 25-year-old has become a mainstay as Ireland’s
full-back, last weekend was the first time he played in front of an away crowd in a Test match.

To his credit, Keenan was one of the only Ireland players alive to Antoine Dupont’s quickly taken lineout for France’s early try, but as he explains, it’s easier said than done to get your message across in a venue as raucous as the Stade de France.

“Just being in the backfield, I didn’t have to chase it, so you get to see these things,” he explains.

“That might come back to the communication point in such a loud stadium. The ball actually bounced off tackle bags and into Dupont’s hands. It looked like it was going into the stand, so it was quite unlucky.

“But we maybe switched off for a second, and France thrive off these things.”

Just as Ireland started the game poorly, they also managed the endgame badly, which will certainly have been highlighted in yesterday’s video review, as a 23-man squad reconvened for a two-day training camp.

As much as it will have made uncomfortable viewing for many players, the page will quickly turn and look towards the visit of Italy on Sunday week.

“I don’t think Test rugby comes much harder than France away at the moment,” Keenan adds.

“It does linger with you a bit. But if we can finish well in the next three games, you never know what’s going to happen. I think it was 20 points won the competition last year. We still feel there is plenty to play for.

“We still have a lot more in us. We all feel that as a team. If we were only three points away from beating them when we were maybe only at a six or seven out of ten, that’s a positive.”

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