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28th Feb 2023

Hugo Keenan ‘best fullback in Britain and Ireland’ despite flying Freddie Steward

Patrick McCarry

Hugo Keenan

The Leinster and Leicester fullbacks are flying it.

For a good stretch, Rob Kearney and Mike Brown would be included in the debates for best fullbacks in world rugby. The torches have been passed to Hugo Keenan and Freddie Steward, two lads making the job look far easier than it actually is.

Last weekend, in the Six Nations, Keenan and Steward carried on regardless and delivered two effortless, classy performances that have long since become the norm. Steward took everything Wales could throw, or kick, at him and turned a number of tricky propositions into dangerous counters. Keenan was like an electric eel as he wriggled and stung his way through a clatter of Italian limbs to grab his ninth Test try.

On RugbyJOE’s Six Nations Corner, we debated who from Keenan and Steward had the best claim for the 15 jersey in a ‘World’s Best XV’. Greg O’Shea, over on House of Rugby, has stated that Hugo Keenan is the best fullback in the world, right now. Jason Hennessy commented:

“Freddie Steward is definitely up there with him. When England have even being playing badly, these past two years, Steward has been their stand-out player. He has been the stand-out player in the Premiership, these past two, three seasons.

“I’d put him in the top four fullbacks in the world right now, up there with Jordie Barrett, Hugo Keenan and Willie Le Roux.”

Hugo KeenanHugo Keenan of Ireland gets past the tackle Freddie Steward of England. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Ugo Monye on Hugo Keenan

Over on the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily, former England and Lions star Ugo Monye came down on the side of Hugo Keenan in the best fullback debate

When Welsh rugby legend Jonathan Davies referred to the 26-year-old as ‘an absolute revelation’, Monye doubled down. He declared:

“Best fullback in Britain and Ireland. He has the reliability and a no-mistake game, but that’s not a game without taking risks. He has that fitness and game understanding – how he just sees opportunities and his 50/22 kicks – he covers so much ground.

“He’s got a brilliant rugby brain. He almost epitomises how Ireland want to play. Ireland are incredibly sturdy and solid, and he’s all those things, but with this brilliance and flair.”

Steward did edge Keenan out of the World Rugby ‘Dream Team’ of the Year when he was the sole England representative in a high-class XV.

This ‘world’s best’ talk often bubbles and broils whenever the Six Nations and The Rugby Championship tournaments are played out, often with a northern and southern hemisphere skew, and a sprinkling of recency bias. Fortunately, we are in a World Cup year so the ‘Best XV’ at the end of 2023 will have a very fair reflection on who has impressed at the biggest stage.

Given that Ireland and England are on opposite sides of the World Cup draw, do not be surprised if both Keenan and Steward get a chance to make their pitch in a big knock-out game, maybe even against each other.


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