Kieran Keane set for return to Italy to take on Zebre

Connacht coach was on All Blacks side in 1979 for their first international against Italy

Coach Kieran Keane: Connacht are light in the back row with both Eoin McKeon  and Jake Heenan   joining Jarrad Butler and  Seán O’Brien on the injury list. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Coach Kieran Keane: Connacht are light in the back row with both Eoin McKeon and Jake Heenan joining Jarrad Butler and Seán O’Brien on the injury list. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Kieran Keane will return to Italy for the first time in 38 years when he takes his Connacht squad to Parma for Saturday’s Pro 14 encounter with Michael Bradley’s Zebre.

It is something of a nostalgic return for Keane who was a member of the 1979 All Blacks side which played their first international match against Italy in Rovigo at the end of a tour of England and Scotland.

The Connacht coach played inside centre on that occasion, alongside other notables such as Graham Mourie, Andy Haden, Murray Mexted, Mark Donaldson, Stu Wilson and Bernie Fraser.

The New Zealanders eked out a 18-12 win but it was tinged with sadness when they heard afterwards that an Air New Zealand passenger plane had crashed in the Antarctic claiming 257 lives in what became known as the Mount Erebus disaster – the worst civil disaster in New Zealand’s history.

“I have good memories, except it is the anniversary of Erebus. When we come off the field and got that news, we didn’t know if any of the lads had family members or close friends involved. It is certainly indented here [in my head], “ said Keane on Tuesday, which was the 38th anniversary – and also the 124th of New Zealand women becoming the first in the world to vote.

Connacht are light in the back row with both Eoin McKeon (hamstring) and Jake Heenan (shoulder) joining Jarrad Butler and Seán O’Brien on the injury list, but James Connolly (ankle) has returned to training. Internationals Ultan Dillane and Kieran Marmion are available, but centre Bundee Aki is being given further rest.

“Zebre certainly give the ball plenty of air and they have good players, so I think we will be pretty evenly matched,” said Keane.

“We expect a tussle. To be a lot more disciplined in our approach, understand what our roles are, and execute really well, that is where we want to concentrate. We don’t want to get swept up in peripheral things.”

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