Kieran Keane gets the thumbs up from all at Connacht

Timing is everything, and it looks like the right time for new Connacht head coach Kieran Keane.

After two seasons with Super Rugby's Chiefs as an assistant, the Christchurch-born Kiwi departs Hamilton for a new challenge as a head coach in Ireland. With his Chiefs' boss Dave Rennie heading to Glasgow, and the Waikato franchise turning to Colin Cooper to fill those boots, the time appears right for Keane to make his move.

A former All Black, Keane, known in New Zealand as KK, possesses a vast CV that includes Super Rugby experience with the Highlanders and the Chiefs, NPC rugby, national underage, and most notably huge success with provincial side Tasman. Much of that might have gone under the radar outside of New Zealand, but current Connacht coach Pat Lam says he is a widely respected coach in his home country.

"He is a very good team man, big around culture, and is a school teacher, like myself. Ultimately he has got results in rugby and a lot of people speak highly of him, whether it is his peers or the players," says Lam.

"When I was told they [Connacht] were looking at KK, I said perfect choice. He is a very experienced head coach, he's relational, it's about community - to get the best out of players, you get to know them - and he will drive them hard as well.

"Kieran is very comfortable in his skin. He's not coming to prove he's a head coach, he's coming here to continue to drive the plan, and he will fit in nicely. He has the experience and the players and the people here will love him."

Keane, of Irish ancestry - possibly Waterford according to CEO Willie Ruane - coaches an attacking style of play. It has won many admirers Down Under, and one that ensured he is a perfect fit for continuing Connacht's style under Lam.

Lam and Keane have met on several occasions in New Zealand, mostly at rugby conferences when Lam was involved with the Blues and Keane with the Highlanders.

"The good thing about those conferences, we all get together, the All Black coaches are there, we all talk rugby and then go out and have a meal together and a few drinks, and that is when the social side starts and KK was very much the life of that party. "

The two met again a couple of weeks ago in Galway when Keane made his first trip to Connacht after an initial interview via Skype. Although he did not meet the players, except captain John Muldoon, news of his appointment has been widely welcomed by the group, including Bundee Aki, who had left the Chiefs just prior to Keane's appointment but maintains contact with his former club mates.

Keane will not be available until the end of the Chief's Super Rugby season, mid July if they fail to make the play-offs, but Ruane says he will have some input "in so much as he has a job to do with the Chiefs".

And he will be consulted for recruitment, although Ruane says Keane is happy with the current talent in the squad.

"He thinks there is a sufficient talent in the squad, he's looked at videos, and is excited by it - no plans to turn the squad upside down. There are a couple of areas he might look at, but he wants to give everyone opportunity and then reassess."

Much of Keane's style is built of skills, and a new skills coach to replace Dave Ellis, now with the Blues, is on the agenda, while there are rumours that Conor McPhillips, the highly-valued former analyst who Lam brought into his coaching team, may also be departing. Likewise in New Zealand there are murmurings that several of the remaining Chiefs' coaching set-up may also depart, including skills man Andrew Strawbridge, who is "understood to have been eyeing up overseas posts", according to NZ reports.

Willie Ruane says the Connacht back-up team will be confirmed in the next few days.

"We are pretty advanced and genuinely happy, but can't confirm. You will see some change, filling the Dave Ellis role, but expect change."

While Ruane says Keane is known in NZ as someone who understands the game, he is also considered a "character".

"He is really down to earth, straightforward individual, a bit of a storyteller, a character, and I think Connacht people will really warm to him."


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