Hugo Keenan on New Zealand Test Series & Historic Victory
We catch up with Energia Ambassador, Hugo Keenan, about the New Zealand Test Series & their historic victory against the All-Blacks.
Auckland and it’s learnings
''The first game didn’t go as planned but we took a lot of confidence on how we played and how we challenged the All Blacks with our attack and style of play, and we got over the line 5 times yet none counting as tries. We knew if we fixed up a few things and got the bounce of the ball the next week it would be different. It was an unusual tour in the sense that we were prepping for a Māori game midweek and then a test game on the weekend, so our training was a bit disrupted and had low numbers some of the days.
That combined with jet lag and Covid cases meant that it had its challenges early on and it probably effected our performance in game one. After the first game we adopted a no excuses attitude and we accepted it was going to be tough. It was apart of touring, and we definitely took that mindset into the final two weeks, and it stood to us. We got a bit of down time in Auckland as it’s tough to get straight into training after the long trip over, so I hit up most coffee shops and was very impressed with the food over there. Although I think I’ve had my fill of lamb for the whole year at this stage. I was pleasantly surprised with how nice the city was and some of the suburbs, Ponceby in particular.''
''We took a lot of belief into the Dunedin game. We had a quick start in that game and we knew we were well able to take a stab of things and be the first team to win in that stadium and make our first bit of history! The best part of Dunedin (which isn't as glamorous as Auckland to say the least) was their stadium. A brilliant surface with a roof over the stadium which based on our experience of the weather it was essential.
It’s down the bottom of the South Island so it was considerably colder and wetter. It’s known as a student town and has strong connection with Edinburgh. We got to celebrate the win with a couple of beers post game which was nice.''
''The final test was in Wellington known as the windy city and it didn’t take long to fully believe it! The city is more artsy and alternative than the others. It was nice to get back to a bit more luxury than what we were treated to in Dunedin! Wellington was the most enjoyable week of the tour for me. What was huge for the group was the team beating the Māoris midweek. That group of players had trained so hard the first two weeks and their first game didn’t reflect what they were capable of. There was a lot of new combinations and inexperienced lads at international level so the improvement in those weeks was massive and showed in their performance. That final Māori game was viewed as important as any test game so there was a great pressure to prep the team for that and to win.
We trained very little the last week it was more sharpening the body and mind for the last game of the season. The coaches knew the work had been done so trusted us to be on our A game which turned out to stand to us as the final test game was probably the hardest game of my rugby career. The Māori game gave us confidence going into it as the last time Ireland played in the Sky stadium was in 2012 and they lost by 60 points so a few of the older lads like Keith Earls, Peter O’Mahoney and Sexto had some negative memories walking back into the stadium. The Māori game put this to bed. I don’t think I need to say much about that game, the rest is history! We enjoyed a beer in the NZ changing room after the game and I was lucky enough to swap jerseys with my opposite number Jordi Barrett. One thing that struck me over the few weeks was the friendliness of the New Zealanders especially the Māoris. Like their team, they were very humble in defeat.
They would always be giving us the warmest of welcomes and were genuinely delighted we were over there and challenging and testing their team. They hadn’t had an international match on home soil since Covid, so they were delighted to host us and appreciated it more than ever considering the last few years and their strict boarder policies.''
''For me what made the trip extra special was I was lucky enough to have my parents over for all 3 games. It always helps after gutting losses and makes the wins extra special to share it with them. The biggest surprise for me being on my first tour and one of my highlights was the bus journeys. Naturally there’s a lot of travelling to different training centres and cities so Tadgh Furlong organised craic for the bus. One of the jokers of the squad, Gavin Coombes and the most ruthless on the squad Caelan Doris were appointed as the MCs. The lads were then voted into jobs and committees and made present to their area on the microphone at the top of the bus. There were several sections including “Words of wisdom from the over 30s”, thought of the day, joke of the day and my favourite Finlay Bealhams diary entries.
I was on tourist info with Mike Lowry, informing everyone on all things to do/see/avoid and activities as well giving historical info on the cities we were going to. It was all very light-hearted stuff and ended up mostly having a laugh with players on the squad.
What a tour it was and one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Made friends for life and were now in a great position heading into the World Cup year. We know teams will now have a target on our back but makes for an exciting year to come and puts pressure on us to keep our form up!''