Hugo Keenan believes a fearless approach paved the way for Ireland to emphatically launch their Guinness Six Nations title charge with a devastating win which wrecked Warren Gatland’s return as Wales boss.
Full-back Keenan played a starring role on Saturday as the world’s top-ranked team subdued the Cardiff crowd by brushing aside the stunned hosts during a blistering start.
Tries from Caelan Doris, James Ryan and James Lowe helped build a commanding 27-3 half-time lead before Josh Van Der Flier crossed late on to crush Welsh resistance and secure a bonus point.
Ireland had previously not won a championship match at the Principality Stadium for a decade but stylishly snapped the losing streak as opposition optimism for the start of the second Gatland era was swiftly snuffed out.
“We’re delighted to get the win and the four tries and the bonus point, we came over here for that one reason and we got it,” said Keenan, who was named the official man of the match.
“We talked about not being afraid. The atmosphere is going to be loud, it’s going to be a fired up Gatland side that are going to try and prove a point so we wanted to start the game fast so that was a bit of my mentality as well.
“Everybody bought into that so I think the whole team performance in that first half was brilliant and the forwards were immense, weren’t they? We came out of the blocks quite well.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell agreed for the stadium roof to be closed in order to provide his players with the test of a more intimidating atmosphere.
They wasted little time in rising to the challenge as Doris and Ryan crossed inside eight minutes before Lowe’s breakaway try and 12 points from the boot of captain Johnny Sexton gave Wales a mountain to climb.
Gatland’s hosts responded early in the second period and threatened to make a game of it through Liam Williams.
But world player of the year Van Der Flier rubber stamped an impressive outing to lay down a marker ahead of the Irish hosting reigning Grand Slam champions France next weekend.
Keenan feels Les Bleus – the only major nation Ireland have yet to beat during Farrell’s tenure – represent the ultimate test and says his side need to up their game.
“Yeah, definitely,” he replied, when asked if that fixture is as big as it gets. “All focus is going to be on that. We’re going to be looking at what we can improve on.
“I think that second half there was a bit of a lull so we’re going to have to be better than that if we’re going to beat France at home.
“They’ve got the better of us the last two or so times so we know what kind of challenge it is going to be. We’re looking forward to it so we’re going to regroup, a big week for us now.”