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Refreshed Keenan aims to kick on again with his sights on Ireland's full-back slot

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Hugo Keenan. Photo: Sportsfile

Hugo Keenan. Photo: Sportsfile

Hugo Keenan. Photo: Sportsfile

By the time Leinster left the RDS late on Friday night, having restored a sense of order in the PRO14, their attention had already switched to the Champions Cup.

They did so knowing that their plans for the week ahead could quickly be scuppered, so when news filtered through on Saturday morning that Europe is set to be postponed on the back of growing Covid-19 concerns, Leinster, along with most other teams, found themselves in limbo.

Leo Cullen's men did at least get back to winning ways against Ulster, while in the process they took a giant leap towards ensuring they advance to the league final at the expense of their northern rivals, whose lead at the top is down to five points, with Leinster having two games in hand.

That the champions delivered a far-from-vintage performance leaves work to do in training again this week, but there were positives amidst Leinster's rustiness.

For one, Jordan Larmour looked very sharp on his return from almost four months out with a dislocated shoulder.

It was telling that Cullen opted to deploy Larmour on the right wing again, rather than at full-back, where he had been preferred by Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.

In Leinster at least, Hugo Keenan appears to be viewed as a safer pair of hands in the back-field, and he proved why with an assured man-of-the-match performance.

Impressive

Keenan enjoyed an impressive breakthrough season last year, and his challenge now is to kick on again in 2021.

As a starting point, this was encouraging, as the 24-year-old marshalled the back-three well with his constant chatter, while he stepped up as a playmaker. Bigger tests lie ahead, but if Farrell was picking an Ireland team tomorrow, he would be hard pushed to look beyond Keenan in the 15 jersey.

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"It was good to blow off the cobwebs after a nice Christmas," Keenan said, following Leinster's 24-12 bonus-point win over Ulster.

"You don't have much time to think about it, it's straight back in. It was such a big game for us, you have to make sure you're coming out of the blocks pretty quickly, you couldn't be rusty. It was good for the whole group and for me.

"I suppose it (Connacht defeat) gave us a bit of a kick up the arse and a bit of a wake-up call as well."

A couple of starts at full-back in the Champions Cup against Northampton and Montpellier would have been ideal for Keenan leading into the Six Nations.

Although he may not get the chance, if Leinster and Munster was to be fixed in the next fortnight, that will be a good audition, as Leinster look to grow the understanding in their back-three between Keenan, Larmour and Dave Kearney.

"Ah yeah, they're great, Jordan and Dave, they know the back-three so well," Keenan added. "Stu (Lancaster) and Felipe (Contepomi) have given us a good framework to work off and it's paying off well."


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