The challenge with Leinster will be a special fixture for Mick Kearney. The Irish lock is in fact, together with his union mate Ian Nagle, one of the former players of this 3rd round of Guinness PRO14 which, on Friday 23rd October, will see the Zebre face the seven-time champions of the tournament at the RDS Arena in Dublin.
The match - the 14th between the two side of the Conference A - will be broadcast live on TG4, Premier Sports 1 and Eir Sport with kick-off at 19:35 local time.
After having raised his second championship title in 2018/19 and having played 51 official matches with the coach Cullen side, the 29-year-old Dubliner joined Zebre in the summer of 2019, collecting 17 presences with the multicolor jersey so far.
His arrival in Parma has brought so much experience and quality to a franchise that makes the development of the most promising young Italians one of its technical pillars.
Growing up in the Leinster youth academy and graduating at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf, the player earned his first Guinness PRO14 contract in the summer of 2011, joining Connacht at the conclusion of the World Rugby U20 Championship played against Ireland in Italy.
He made his debut in the tournament in November 2011 against the Ospreys. After collecting 68 official matches with the franchise based in Galway, the No. 5 Irishman returns in force at the Dubliners in the summer of 2015, after four seasons with Connacht and two international games with Emerging Ireland.
What match will be against Leinster? "It's going to be a very tough match, we have to be extremely accurate in our game. If you make mistakes in some areas of the pitch or in the execution of some offensive and defensive plays, Leinster is very effective in getting you to pay for them. Our main focus will be on accuracy in all the phases of the game.
It will be a special challenge for you against your former team. What are your personal motivations and what memories do you have of the years spent with the Leinster jersey? "Yes, I have wonderful memories of my years at Leinster. I have great motivation, I will try to express my best possible performance. But this will not change the commitment I offer the team in all circumstances. Of course it will be nice to catch up a couple of guys at the end of the match in respect of the social distancing measures".
What aspects of the game will be decisive? "I think there will be many field options and the set piece will be massive. Leinster is extraordinarily accurate in deciding which area of the game to play in. We will try to bring pressure and impose ourselves with the line-out. This will allow us to get into the game.
What aspect of the Zebre's game has always impressed you on the occasions you have faced them as an opponent? "Zebre have always played with extraordinary commitment, physically above all. It was never easy to impose ourselves on them and you had to stay focused for the first 60/70 minutes of the game in the hope of bringing them down. That's what has always impressed me, their dedication to the fight that they put on throughout the game".
You have been in Parma since the summer of 2019. What environment have you found in Italy and how has it been to join the team and the city? "Yes, I really love Parma, a beautiful city with very friendly people. It was a cultural shock from some points of view but overall I am really appreciating this experience in Italy".
What is the great value that experienced players like you and Ian Nagle can offer to the young group of Zebre? "I think that both me and Ian have tried to come in the team consolidating the experience already present here. There are a lot of experienced players who are currently out with the Italian National team who have built a solid structure and are making a great contribution to the youngsters. From my point of view, I am trying to help this growth".