Monday 20 January 2020

Keane to jet in early to tackle Connacht's pre-season

New Connacht coach Kieran Keane
New Connacht coach Kieran Keane

John Fallon

New Connacht coach Kieran Keane is set to arrive in the Sportsground much earlier than anticipated in a bid to prevent a repeat of the disjointed pre-season campaign which undermined their defence of the Guinness Pro12 crown last year.

Keane, who is assistant coach with the Waikato Chiefs, may not arrive in Galway on a permanent basis until August, but is coming to the Sportsground for a week this month to get their preparations up and running.

An arrangement has been put in place for Keane to take a break from his duties with the Chiefs during an interval in the Super Rugby schedule to travel from New Zealand to oversee Connacht's preparations.

The 63-year-old will spend just over a week in Galway at the end of this month, sorting out Connacht's pre-season campaign and meeting most of the players for the first time. He will then return to New Zealand and see out his contract with the Chiefs, which will run to late July or, given how well they are doing, possibly into August.

Keane is in regular contact with Connacht from New Zealand but his arrival in Galway at the end of this month will be well-received amid fears that another poor pre-season would again undermine their campaign.

Connacht ended up playing just one pre-season game last summer - a workout against Montpellier in France on August 11 - and were clearly undercooked three weeks later when they opened the defence of their Pro12 crown at the Sportsground and were hammered 41-5 by Glasgow.

Dreadful They then lost 32-11 at home to Ospreys and 17-8 away to Scarlets before finally defeating Edinburgh. But they never really recovered from that dreadful start finishing eighth in the Pro12 and missing out on Champions Cup rugby.

A pre-season clash with Pat Lam's Bristol is pencilled in for August 26 at the Sportsground, with Connacht expected to play at least two other warm-up games prior to that.

The return to Galway will conclude Lam's pre-season with relegated Bristol, having also arranged home ties with Harlequins, Bath and Scarlets.

Forwards coach Jimmy Duffy is the only survivor is on the Connacht coaching team, with academy manager Nigel Carolan stepping up as backs coach and ex-Edinburgh and Queensland Reds defence coach Peter Wilkins also coming on board.

Connacht also need to appoint a new head of fitness after Paul Bunce opted to move to Bristol with Lam, a journey which former winger and backs coach Conor McPhillips is also undertaking.

But the earlier arrival of Keane, even if just for a week, will be a big boost to Connacht, with several new signings also expected to be completed.

Irish Independent

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