Red letter day for Kearney and McKinley
Published 27/02/2016 | 02:30
As well as the crucial points that are on offer in Parma tomorrow, the meeting of Leinster and Zebre marks a crucial moment in the careers of two Dubliners on opposing sides.
Ian McKinley, who began his career with Leinster before being forced into retirement as a result of a freak accident in a club game in 2011 that resulted in him losing the sight in his left eye, starts at out-half for Zebre.
McKinley has since been able to return to action with the aid of protective goggles while for lock Mick Kearney, this is a chance to build on his return last week.
Kearney has made just one appearance since joining from Connacht last summer and he admitted that it's been a tough road back to full fitness.
"To have the relapse, there was probably a half an hour of tears and a day of feeling sorry for myself," he said.
"You feel like you're starting all over again. It felt like a first cap in professional rugby. There was definitely times (when I thought I wouldn't get back).
"You get to a point where you've been injured for so long, you think that the pain must be normal. It's unbelievably dark.
"The first pain-free day, I didn't really know what was going on. I was kinda thinking, 'Jesus, why does this foot feel like the other!'
"The stairs in the morning were the big test. If I can get down them pain-free then I'm fairly confident it's going to be a good day. The last couple of weeks, the stairs have been a dream."
Leo Cullen has made eight changes to the side that beat Cardiff last week but this remains a good enough Leinster side to comfortably come away with victory.
Zebre - M Muliaina; G Toniolatti, T Boni, M Pratichetti, K Van Zyl; I McKinley, P Semenzato; B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, G Roan; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt); J Sarto, F Ruzza, J Meyer. Reps: G Morelli, A De Marchi, P Ceccarelli, G Koegelenberg, E Caffini, L Burgees, A Azzolini, U Beyers.
Leinster - Z Kirchner; A Byrne, G Ringrose, B Te'o, I Nacewa (capt); C Marsh, L McGrath; P Dooley, J Tracy, T Furlong; R Molony, M Kearney; D Ryan, D Leavy, J Conan. Reps: S Cronin, J Loughman, M Bent, H Triggs, J Murphy, N McCarthy, N Reid, C Kelleher.
REF - L Hodges (WRU)
Zebre v Leinster, Live, Sky Sports, tomorrow, 4.0