Hugo Keenan hands over Fastest Player in Ireland squad title to Robert Baloucoune
He had a good run. Literally.
Hugo Keenan's reign as fastest player in the Ireland squad has only lasted nine months. They have been a hectic, enjoyable nine months, though.
The Leinster star made his debut against Italy, last October, and is already 11 caps deep into his Ireland career [seven starts, four tries]. He has locked down the No.15 jersey to an extent that Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale are back dicing over wing berths and the returning Simon Zebo is not yet required for international duty.
The 24-year-old is set to start against Japan, this weekend, in front of 3,000 fans at the Aviva Stadium, in a test event for getting crowds returning safely to sporting events. For the first time since his Ireland debut, his family should be in attendance for the game.
One of the stand-out aspects of Keenan's game is his speed. Having experienced life within the Ireland Sevens set-up, the Dubliner has a turn of pace that works wonders in defence and attack. He also has incredible stamina.
Teammates at Leinster and Ireland attest to that, and it was Larmour who, last year, revealed that Keenan had run a 'Bronco' [interval speed and endurance session] in a time of 4:11. That shaved a second off the time that All Blacks great Beauden Barrett had registered earlier in 2020. On those 'Bronco' scores, Keenan told us:
"I was going out to the pitches at Blackrock College and doing some running with my brother. It was just about keeping up the fitness. We had an idea that there would be games coming back at some stage and it's so competitive at Leinster that you want to be putting your hand up in any way possible.
"It was about coming back as fit as possible. Getting as fit as I could was going to be an advantage to me and hopefully that stands to me in games now. I think it does."
There have been some new additions, and fresh legs, added to Andy Farrell's Ireland squad for the summer series against Japan and the USA. Keenan admits his title as quickest squad member has been handed over to another player with a Sevens background.
"Sure, Rob Baloucoune is here, and I'm well used to him from the Sevens days. He's definitely the fastest in the squad.
"And then, obviously, Mike Lowry is electric as well. It definitely shakes things up a bit."
Baloucoune comes from an athletics background and possesses that sort of short-burst pace that has seen him leaving rakes of top quality defenders in his wake.
Baloucoune is wearing the crown for now but, like Keenan, it may not be for long. Aaron Sexton, his Ulster teammate, is a track and field hot-shot who has won national titles and was clocked at reaching a top speed of 37.8 kph in an 'A' game against Connacht.
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