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Rugby World Cup 2023: Hugo Keenan says Ireland want to make statement in opener

Hugo Keenan poses for a portrait at the Tours Town Hall
Hugo Keenan was on media duties at the Tours Town Hall on Wednesday

2023 Rugby World Cup: Pool B - Ireland v Romania

Venue: Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Date: Saturday, 9 September Kick-off: 14:30 BST

Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Sounds and online; follow text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Hugo Keenan says Ireland are ready to "lay down a statement" in their opening World Cup match after under-performing during the warm-up games in August.

Ireland prepared for the tournament by beating Italy, England and Samoa.

But Leinster full-back Keenan says the Irish are ready to rediscover their highest level of performance, starting with Saturday's opener against Romania.

"I don't think we've shown our best in the Test games leading up to the World Cup so far," admitted Keenan.

"We haven't been overly happy with our performances. There's been some good bits but then a lot of work-ons.

"But we're excited for this weekend. We're ready to show an improvement on what's been shown before. We're set for the challenge."

Keenan added: "We want to put in a performance that we know we have in ourselves and if we can lay down a statement doing that, that would be great."

Ireland come into the World Cup on the back of a 13-Test winning run stretching back to last summer's series victory over the All Blacks.

Since that historic triumph in New Zealand, Andy Farrell's side have underlined their status as the world's number one team by beating South Africa - who they will face in Pool B - and Australia in the autumn Tests before clinching the Grand Slam in this year's Six Nations.

But 27-year-old Keenan, who was outstanding in the Six Nations and played every minute of the New Zealand series, says Ireland know they must raise their game to even greater heights as they set out to win the World Cup for the first time.

"We know every team's going to have a good pre-season and a few months together to improve," added Keenan.

"So we know ourselves we have to take what we've shown in the Six Nations, the autumn series, the New Zealand series up another level because of that, because every team will have improved and added bits and pieces to their game.

"We've got to do the same to ours."

While the opening weekend of the World Cup includes a number of mouth-watering matches between the world's top-10 sides, such as France v New Zealand, England v Argentina, South Africa v Scotland and Wales v Fiji, Ireland are expected to comfortably overcome 19th-ranked Romania in Bordeaux.

Romania have never reached the knockout stages of the World Cup in nine previous attempts, while they have lost all nine meetings with Ireland, three of which came at the 1999, 2003 and 2015 tournaments.

The Oaks also lost all three of their warm-up games, but Keenan insists Ireland respect every team in the competition and are taking nothing for granted.

"You have to gain a bit of confidence on what we've built on in the past from beating the top teams around and let that build your confidence and belief," insisted Keenan, who has scored nine tries in 31 caps since making his Test debut in 2020.

"But you can't take anything for granted. A lot of teams have improved over this big block that they've had together so we have to take it up a notch ourselves."

'We'll be glued to the TV for France v New Zealand'

Ireland will face Romania on Saturday after hosts France take on New Zealand in an eagerly-anticipated tournament opener on Friday night in Paris.

The Irish will likely face Les Bleus or the All Blacks in the quarter-finals if they make it that far and Keenan admits he will be watching Friday's Pool A match with interest.

"It's a tough one to predict, isn't it?," said Keenan, whose room-mate in France is Leinster team-mate Jimmy O'Brien.

"It's an exciting opening game. I think everyone will be glued to the TVs on Friday night. It's annoying it's so late, nine o'clock (local time), I'll nearly be watching it from bed.

"But no, it's a great opening game and I'm looking forward to watching it."