Full-back Hugo Keenan insists in-form Ireland must lift their performances “up a notch” as they chase glory at the Rugby World Cup.
The 27-year-old Leinster player has been virtually ever-present since his Test debut just under three years ago and has barely tasted defeat in the green jersey.
Ireland have beaten each of their major rivals in that time, including a historic series success in New Zealand last summer.
Yet Keenan concedes previous statement results count for little as the Six Nations champions seek to substantiate their status as the sport’s top-ranked nation over the coming weeks in France.
“You have to respect all the teams in the competition,” he said.
“I suppose you have to gain a bit of confidence from what we’ve built on in the past by beating the top teams around and let that build your confidence and belief going into it.
“But you can’t take anything for granted. A lot of teams will have improved in this big block they’ve had together, so we’ve got to take it up a notch ourselves.”
Former rugby sevens player Keenan has been victorious in 25 of his 31 caps to date, with just two of the losses coming since the end of the 2021 Six Nations.
International team-mate Iain Henderson last month said Ireland’s new cohort of stars, such as Keenan, Caelan Doris and Dan Sheehan, have made pushing the top teams the “norm”.
Andy Farrell’s side arrived at their training base in Tours on the back of a national record 13 consecutive victories, albeit having failed to hit previous heights during warm-up wins over Italy, England and Samoa.
“Every team is going to have improved and going to have added little bits and pieces to their game,” continued Keenan. “We’ve got to do the same to ours.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 6, 2023
“I don’t think we’ve shown our best in the Test games leading up to the World Cup so far. There’s been some good bits, but then a lot of work-ons.
“We’re ready to show an improvement on what’s gone before.”
Farrell’s men begin their campaign on Saturday afternoon against Romania in Bordeaux.
Ireland beat their upcoming opponents at the World Cup in 1999, 2003 and 2015 but have not faced them since the last of those matches – a 44-10 success at Wembley.
Keenan, who was present as a fan when Ireland exited the 2015 tournament with a quarter-final loss to Argentina in Cardiff, is braced for the team ranked 19th in the world to “throw the kitchen sink”.
“I wouldn’t have known too much about them but you have to do your homework on them, you have to get up to speed pretty quickly,” he said.
“We’ve known the schedule of games for a while now so we’ve been able to prepare for this for a bit.
“They’re a big powerful pack, they back their set piece, a few physical boys in the back line as well. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re going to throw the kitchen sink at us.”
By Ed Elliot, PA, Tours
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