Job accomplished and onto the next challenge – that’s the sentiment echoing through Hugo Keenan and the Irish camp following a commanding 36-14 bonus point victory over Scotland, securing their position atop Pool B at the Rugby World Cup.
This marks Ireland’s third clean sweep of pool victories in four World Cups. However, the shadow of painful quarter-final exits in 2011 and 2015 looms large in their history despite such strong performances in the group stage.
The atmosphere feels notably different this time around. Despite the formidable challenge of facing New Zealand in the upcoming quarter-final, Ireland enters as the pre-match favorites. The historic 2022 series win over the All Blacks, combined with their current form, provides confidence for Andy Farrell’s squad.
Among the 17 players in Farrell’s RWC 2023 squad who were not part of the quarter-final defeat to New Zealand in 2019, Keenan stands out. Ireland has triumphed over Ian Foster’s side three times in four meetings since then, including successful outings in Dunedin and Wellington during the summer tour.
Keenan, who scored a try at the ‘Cake Tin’ during that memorable encounter, continues to make significant contributions. Scoring against France and Italy in this year’s Grand Slam, his first-half brace in the Scotland game adds to his tally in his inaugural World Cup appearance.
Despite his individual achievements, Keenan remains modest, acknowledging the hard work of the forwards and the precise passes from Garry Ringrose and Johnny Sexton that set up his tries. With a dozen tries in 35 international appearances, Keenan’s impact is undeniable, yet he insists on sharing credit with the relentless efforts of the forward pack.
As Ireland marches into the quarter-finals, there’s a palpable sense of optimism fueled by recent successes and a determination to rewrite the narrative of previous World Cup campaigns.