By Ed Elliot, PA
Full-back Hugo Keenan admits Ireland’s performances must vastly improve if they are to realise their potential by becoming Guinness Six Nations champions.
Andy Farrell’s men go into the championship as the world’s top-ranked nation and the pre-tournament favourites.
In-form Ireland won nine of 11 Tests in 2022 but were far from convincing in beating Fiji and Australia in November after beginning the autumn by toppling world champions South Africa.
Who wins this weekend? 🤔#AwakenAnticipation pic.twitter.com/IMfQboNmmi
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 31, 2023
Keenan is among the Irish contingent who have yet to taste Six Nations glory and believes better displays are required to plug the gap on his CV, beginning on Saturday in Wales.
“That’s what we’re all chasing,” he said of the title, according to the Irish Mirror.
“I’ve never experienced it. I know some of the lads have from the 2018 side, and we’re all pretty determined to do it again and I think it’s taking things one game at a time.
“That’s the challenge, that’s the goal the coaches are setting and we’re setting for ourselves. I think we have the capabilities to, so it’s just about performing individually and collectively.
Match week just hits differently! 😮💨#TeamOfUs | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/7eab1cIate
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) January 30, 2023
“I know it was still such a successful campaign in November with three wins, but I don’t think we quite clicked in a lot of the areas. It was great beating South Africa, but then we slipped down in our standards against Fiji, and it wasn’t the most polished performance against Australia.
“To go and compete in the Six Nations, if we’re talking about winning the championship and going to Wales and beating them, we’re going to have to be a lot better than in the autumn.”
Ireland have not won a Six Nations fixture in Cardiff since 2013 and were frustrated to lose 21-16 there in their opening match of the 2021 competition following Peter O’Mahony’s early red card.
That match was played behind closed doors due coronavirus restrictions.
Keenan, who is anticipating a different type of challenge this time around as a raucous Welsh crowd prepare to welcome back head coach Warren Gatland, expects past Principality Stadium disappointment to enhance Irish desire.
“I think people who were part of that squad definitely use it as an extra motivation to bring it into this Six Nations, as that extra bit of fuel,” said the 26-year-old Leinster player, speaking at Ireland’s training camp in Portugal.
He added: “It’s a big challenge, isn’t it? It’s going to be a bit different from the last time, an empty stadium there.”