Six years after losing the sight in his left eye, Ian McKinley is set to make his international bow in November after being named in Italy’s squad.
McKinley retired from rugby after damaging his eye while playing for Leinster in 2011, but he resumed his career three years later wearing protective goggles.
His performances for the Pro14 side have impressed Italy coach Conor O’Shea enough to give the Irish-born fly-half an opportunity – McKinley having qualified to play for the Azzurri in January.
“This is the high point of my career,” McKinley tweeted in Italian on Wednesday. “Thanks to all at the Italian Rugby Federation.”
McKinley is one of five uncapped players in O’Shea’s squad for the games with Fiji, Argentina and South Africa.
Joining him in a squad led by the returning Sergio Parisse are Matteo Minozzi, Jayden Hayward, Renato Giammarioli and Giovanni Licata.
“This selection has been the hardest and most exciting to complete. Despite the injuries, there was a lot of debate between the coaches over numerous positions,” said O’Shea.
“The quality of work being done both at Benetton and Zebre, and more generally at every level of the game, is starting to have a real impact on the quality and depth of the players at our disposal and this is only going to improve in the years to come.
“We have our feet on the ground and we know the difficult challenges that await us, but we are also aware of the fact we are making significant progress towards our objective of being a very competitive team on the international scene once again.
“Our next challenge is the November Tests and I think that thanks to our improved fitness levels, which are still not at the level that we can reach as a squad, and the increased confidence the players have from their performances in their clubs, that we can take a step forward on our path.”
Forwards: Dario Chistolini, Simone Ferrari, Andrea Lovotti, Tiziano Pasquali, Federico Zani, Luca Bigi, Oliviero Fabiani, Leonardo Ghiraldini, George Fabio Biagi, Dean Budd, Marco Fuser, Marco Lazzaroni, Federico Ruzza, Renato Giammarioli, Giovanni Licata, Maxime Mata Mbanda, Francesco Minto, Sergio Parisse, Abraham Steyn.
Backs: Edoardo Gori, Tito Tebaldi, Marcello Violi, Carlo Canna, Ian McKinley, Tommaso Benvenuti Tommaso Boni, Tommaso Castello, Jayden Hayward, Mattia Bellini, Angelo Esposito, Leonardo Sarto, Giovambattista Venditti, Matteo Minozzi, Edoardo Padovani.