Ian McKinley’s childhood dream would have been to represent Ireland but, in the biggest game of his life, he is set to be opposing the country of his birth.
McKinley was born in Dublin but, having played club rugby in Italy since 2014, has qualified to represent the Azzurri.
Now the Irishman could make his Six Nations debut after fighting his way back from a serious eye injury that forced him into retirement.
Who has he played for?
He made his Leinster debut in 2009, and made six appearances before being forced to retire.
The 28-year-old returned to professional rugby with Leonorso in the third tier of Italian domestic rugby before moving to Viadana, who are based in the Lombardy area in the north of country, and competing in the National Championship of Excellence.
McKinley then moved to Zebre as fly-half cover during the 2015 World Cup and 2016 Six Nations, before sealing a move to Bennetton, who he plays for in the Pro14, against the likes of Munster, Leinster and Ospreys.
Why did he have to retire?
He was forced to retire in 2011, aged 21, after a stray boot in a ruck hit him in the left eye, resulting in a loss of sight which has never returned.
The Ireland Under-20 international said at the time: “It was such a great source of relief to get the chance to pull on the Leinster jersey again. In May, though, I played a game for the Leinster development side and I had to stop after 15 minutes because of blurred vision. I then sustained a detached retina a week before pre-season and three operations over this summer couldn’t save my sight in that eye.
“While I am very upset by this turn of events, now it’s about planning the next stage in my life. At this point I like the idea of maybe pursuing a career in coaching. I’m trying to stay positive because there are bigger issues in life that people face everyday and everyone has been so incredibly supportive.”
McKinley returned in 2014 with the assistance of specially-made protective goggles.
When did he make his international debut?
McKinley became eligible for selection in January 2017, and was called up to the Italian squad for the 2017 Summer Tests against Scotland, Fiji and Australia, but didn’t get on the pitch.
He made his debut against Fiji on November 11, coming on as a replacement in the second-half for Carlos Canna, and scored a penalty during the 19-10 victory.
The Dublin man has made two other Test appearances, including a 35-6 defeat to South Africa.
How has be been playing this season?
McKinley has helped lead Bennetton to six wins from their 13 matches in Pro 14’s Conference B, which is currently topped by Scarlets.
They failed to win a game in the European Champions Cup group stage, were they were drawn alongside Toulon, Bath and Scarlets, with McKinley starting four matches.
He has scored 49 points in the Pro14 this season, including two tries.