Leinster's Hugo Keenan on the work he put in to set that Bronco time
"Over lockdown, there wasn't much else to be doing!"
On Saturday, at a sparsely populated Aviva Stadium, Hugo Keenan started the Guinness PRO14 final while Rob Kearney watched on from the sidelines. Just over a year ago it was Keenan watching Kearney in action in a final, only from a greater distance.
The 24-year-old played three PRO14 games for Leinster in 2018/19 but he was not fortunate enough to feature at St James' Park in the Champions Cup final against Saracens, last May.
"Unfortunately," he tells us, "I didn't get to go over to it. The academy guys - the three years of us - we went to Bective Rugby Club to watch the game there, on television."
"That game came down to the wire, didn't it?" he adds. "It was so evenly matched and it was a tough one to watch. I'd say it was a tough one to play in, as well. Obviously, there will be a few people [here] still hurting from that, so there will be a few wrongs to right."
Saracens have been shorn of a few players that started that final, with Alex Lozowski, Liam Williams, Ben Spencer, Will Skelton and Titi Lamositele all departed and outhalf Owen Farrell suspended for Saturday's quarter final clash in Dublin.
Leinster themselves have lost Sean O'Brien [now with London Irish] and Jack McGrath [Ulster] since that game while Tadhg Furlong is a stretch to be involved at the weekend. Dan Leavy and Fergus McFadden are hoping to satisfy the medical staff, and their coaches, this weekend but Leinster will have few feeling sorry for them.
Fresh off winning the Guinness PRO14 title, last Saturday, Leinster are stacked with internationals yet have the likes of the uncapped Keenan, Will Connors, Ciaran Frawley and new tighthead signing Ciaran Parker all vying for a place in the upcoming match-day squad.
Keenan went into this season having made five senior appearances. By the time Ireland arrived back from the World Cup, in Japan, he had doubled that tally. He has 12 outings this season with his last three coming in a row and on the right wing - Ulster, Munster, Ulster.
The Dubliner had already made an impression in his fullback outings, this season, but he tore into the second pre-season of 2019/20 and set a club record that teammate Jordan Larmour was recently raving about. He said:
"There were a few lads, their Bronco scores, who had new personal bests in that. I think I had a three or four-second [PB improvement]. I think a lot of the lads had one. I think Hugo Keenan had a 4:11. So that was pretty impressive."
Asked how he beat the best of the rest to that Bronco time, Keenan laughs. "I don't know. Over lockdown, there wasn't much else to be doing!
"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."
It says a lot for what Leinster make of Keenan that they resisted the urge to bring in the more robust Rory O'Loughlin for the final or to put Kearney at fullback and Larmour on the right wing.
They trust him to deliver and it will be interesting to see if he gets the nod, again, for a make-or-break clash with Saracens.