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'She thought I looked sick' - Keenan on playing at Stade de France

By PA
PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 23: Hugo Keenan of Ireland in action during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between South Africa and Ireland at Stade de France on September 23, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

Hugo Keenan hopes Ireland’s statement win against South Africa has eased “lurking” pressure of playing at Stade de France as they prepare for up to four more crunch World Cup fixtures at the venue.

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Full-back Keenan revealed his partner thought he looked ill due to nerves ahead of Saturday’s thrilling 13-8 success over the reigning champions.

The 27-year-old’s only other Test outings in Paris ended in costly Six Nations defeats to France in 2020 and 2022.

But Andy Farrell’s men ended their hoodoo at the home of French rugby to take control of Pool B moving towards a pivotal group-stage finale against Scotland on October 7.

Ireland’s World Cup destiny will be decided in Saint-Denis – the showdown with the Scots will also be staged there – in addition to each of their potential knockout matches, including the final.

Tournament debutant Keenan was riddled with anxiety at the prospect of arguably the biggest match of his career before helping to snap his country’s Paris losing streak.

“God, I was nervous, I met my girlfriend briefly (beforehand) and she thought I looked sick,” he said of facing the Springboks.

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“I felt good once I got out there; it’s a pressure environment.

“Stade de France hasn’t been kind to us in the past. There’s a pressure lurking that we were keen personally and as a team from that loss to France last year to learn from.

“We’re just going to review this game and focus on Scotland; it’s the only thing we can control and we’re definitely not getting ahead of ourselves.”

Keenan’s second international cap was a 35-27 away loss to Les Bleus, which wiped Ireland out of title contention in the protracted 2020 Six Nations.

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The Leinster player has been an almost ever-present since his Test debut and was part of the team ultimately denied a Grand Slam by a 30-24 defeat in the French capital in February last year.

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While the second of those setbacks occurred in front of a partisan home crowd following a behind-closed-doors clash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Ireland were roared on to victory against the Springboks by tens of the thousands of travelling Irish fans.

“Jeez, that support was incredible,” said Keenan.

“The Irish crowd are amazing: the numbers, the amount of people who made the effort to get over here and support us – it made some difference.

“You need to harness it at the right times and I think the forwards did.

“I’m sure South Africa felt under the cosh at times when the 60-odd-thousand Irish fans are cheering for us, it does make a difference.

“There’s times you have to ignore it during play and just do your job, but you also have to embrace it and make the most of it.

“The walkaround after the game was incredibly special, I saw some familiar faces which makes it extra cool.”

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