The confidence gained from Joe Schmidt’s leap of faith and Keatley’s subsequent four-star performance will be immeasurable, Walsh said yesterday, as Munster build up to Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 clash with Cardiff Blues at Musgrave Park (7.35pm).
“I am delighted for him. Look, there’s always lots of conjecture about who is your best 10 and this, that, and the other, but I think the fact that Joe (Schmidt) saw the merit in starting him in such an important game shows that there are people out there that see his value.
“I think Ian did particularly well in a pressurised situation knowing that [Jonathan] Sexton was coming back the week after and he mightn’t get another chance if it didn’t go well.
"I thought he settled after the first few minutes when it could possibly have gone the other way and he showed great mental strength in what was a tough fixture.
“Ireland stuck to their structure and got what they wanted and given the injuries Ireland had as well, and some of the ball carriers that are out of their squad, it was never going to be that easy.”
Walsh agreed with Ronan O’Gara that out-halves need a number of starts to settle in. “That’s the case if you look at any of them... Johnny Sexton was probably 26 by the time he played regularly, with [Felipe] Contepomi he was on and off the pitch and so forth [for Leinster] and you see it with [Ian] Madigan at the moment not getting an awful lot of game-time.
“There you saw it with ROG in the early days, with [David] Humphreys coming on in the last 20 minutes to supposedly win a game. It’s a natural cycle, it happens in every position. There are very few who come straight in and establish themselves.
“I think Ian’s form and the potential he has shown since the start of the season puts him at a level where Joe can put him in if needs be in the foreseeable future.
“For now, I think the game in Italy would be a huge boost for his confidence.
“Every player wants to know if he is good enough to play at the next level, I think Ian found out last weekend that he is.”
It’s not yet known if Keatley will be released back to Munster while Duncan Casey and Robin Copeland are definitely out of the selection process for this weekend, Copeland having to visit to a specialist today to establish the severity of an ongoing shoulder problem.
Duncan Casey rolled his ankle last week and faces at least two weeks or more on the treatment table, meaning the hooker position is up for grabs between Kevin O’Byrne, Eusebio Guinazu and Niall Scannell.
New Zealander Tyler Bleyendaal is training but is not ready to join the playing ranks, and while Donnacha Ryan is coming along nicely, he still hasn’t scrummaged to test his injured foot. He is expected to need at least three more weeks of rehabilitation, although he is training.
Walsh indicated Dave Kilcoyne was likely to be named in the side.