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New Connacht boss Keane to fly in after Chiefs tackle Lions

The province are keen to avoid a repeat of the inactive pre-season that scuppered their campaign as defending champs.

NEW CONNACHT COACH Kieran Keane is set to arrive in the Sportsground earlier than anticipated in a bid to prevent a repeat of the disjointed preseason campaign which undermined the province’s defence of the Pro12 crown last year.

Kieran Keane Source: Photosport/Joe Allison/INPHO

Keane, who is assistant coach with the Waikato Chiefs, may not set up 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 the upcoming interval in the Super Rugby schedule to travel from New Zealand to oversee Connacht’s preparations.

The Chiefs face the Hurricanes next weekend with only the visit of the Lions on 20 June to play in the five-week gap before their final regular season match against the Brumbies.

Chiefs players celebrate scoring a try Source: Photosport/Bruce Lim/INPHO

The 63-year old will spend just over a week in Galway at the end of this month, sorting out Connacht’s preseason campaign and meeting most of the players for the first time. Keane 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, quite possible into August.

Keane is in regular contact with the western province from New Zealand but his arrival in Galway at the end of this month will be well received amid fears that another poor preseason 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 under-cooked three weeks on when they opened the defence of their Pro12 crown at the Sportsground and were hammered 41-5 by Glasgow.

A week later Ospreys came to Galway and inflicted a 32-11 drubbing, with the then reigning champions suffering a 17-8 loss away to eventual winners Scarlets.

Connacht finally won a match when they defeated Edinburgh 28-15 at the end of September but never really recovered, finishing eighth in the Pro12 and missing out on Champions Cup rugby for the new season.

John Muldoon and Pat Lam Source: James Crombie/INPHO

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 his new club, relegated Bristol having also arranged home warm-up ties with Harlequins, Bath and Pro12 champions 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 ahead of the new season.

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John Fallon

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