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12th Apr 2021

“He completely outplayed Stuart Hogg” – Hugo Keenan nails latest Lions audition

Patrick McCarry

Hugo Keenan

“You look at what Leinster did to Exeter, their supposed best team. They could have beaten them by more there.”

So many Leinster players got the better of their opposite number, at Sandy Park, and Hugo Keenan made a strong case to be pushing Stuart Hogg for game-time on the British & Irish Lions tour.

There was some shot-calling made by Premiership fans when Munster, Connacht, Scarlets, Dragons and Edinburgh were all set packing from the Champions and Challenge Cup round of 16, last weekend.

One week on and five Premiership sides have followed them out the ‘Exit’ door. The last eight spots in Europe’s top two competitions are occupied by four French teams, two from England and two from Ireland [and the PRO14]. Leinster are flying the flag in the Champions Cup after outgunning Exeter on their home turf.

On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 8:00 below], Fergus McFadden, Michelle Claffey and Ian Madigan spoke about a winning weekend for Irish sides and three Leinster players that have boosted their Lions chances.

Stuart Hogg of Exeter Chiefs reacts as a penalty goes against his side during the Champions Cup Quarter-Final against Leinster at Sandy Park. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Hugo Keenan’s first Champions Cup knock-out game away from Dublin got off to a dicey start, after two minutes, when he shot up and missed a tackle on Tom O’Flaherty that led to an early Exeter try.

He quickly parked that error and delivered an excellent outing that included two try assists, 83 metres gained off 15 carries, 12 passes, a line break and three tackles.

Hogg (24 metres off seven carries, nine passes and four tackles) had a quieter time of it. He was not the only off-colour Chief on the day. Fergus McFadden commented:

“Granted, Hugo missed an early tackle but he completely outplayed Stuart Hogg. He drew him in for James Lowe’s try and, for Jordan’s first try, Stuart Hogg probably needs to make that tackle. I think Hugo Keenan is putting himself in a strong position to be a bolter for the Lions.”

While Ireland do have six nailed-on Lions, and another handful pushing hard for selection, the likes of Keenan, Josh van der Flier and Ronan Kelleher, who all did superbly against Exeter, may need a big semi-final performance to sway Gatland and his coaching staff.

There would have been no better place for Keenan to make a mark than at the home of the European champions. For the James Lowe try, the Leinster fullback drew in both Ollie Woodburn and Hogg and was still able to get his hands free for the offload assist:

For the second try, Keenan’s pace discombobulates Hogg and sees him leave Jordan Larmour with all the space he needed to get the ball down in the corner.

“It strikes me,” Ian Madigan observed, “when I’m watching him play that I don’t think teams realise how quick Hugo is. He’s deceptively quick… for that second try, Hogg is unsure if his winger is going to get him. It just puts him in two minds… Hogg has to check for a split second and then, at the last moment, Hugo delivers the pass.”

Add Hogg slipping off a tackle on Larmour, before the Leinster winger’s second try, and you have a defensive day to forget for the presumptive Lions No.15.

Former Ulster and Ireland flanker, Chris Henry feels Kelleher ‘came out on top’ in his personal duel with Chiefs and England hooker Luke Cowan Dickie. Still, he feels the best the Leinster man could hope for would be a stand-by role.

Henry is calling himself a neutral in that debate, but he does have Rob Herring in mind as a potential call-up from these parts. He also paid credit to the “unbelievable” Josh van der Flier, who is another Irish player timing his Lions run nicely.


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