CONNACHT HAVE BEEN boosted by the return of Bundee Aki to training ahead of Saturday’s inter-pro clash with Leinster at the RDS, while they have also secured a loan deal for centre Tom Daly.
Aki returned to Ireland on Monday following his wedding in New Zealand last weekend, and has reported for action in Dublin, but coach Andy Friend will leave it until later in the week to see if his Ireland centre is ready to face the European and Pro14 champions.
Bundee Aki was back training with Connacht yesterday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Aki only missed one game because of his nuptials — Connacht’s 36-21 bonus point win away to Perpignan — and in a further lift for the westerners his regular centre partner Tom Farrell is also available after his injury lay-off.
“He [Aki] is back. He got back from his wedding yesterday [Monday],” said Friend.
“So he was out there training today and we’ll make a decision later on in the week whether he is involved or not.
“Yeah [there is a question mark over his availability]. Bundee is very keen to play, as he always is, you know that. He is a footballer he just wants to be out there playing. It’s how we manage that and how we manage that squad.
“Tom Farrell is good, he’s good to go. We’ve got Tom good to go, Kyle Godwin good to go and the last two weekends we had Kieran Joyce who came in for those two starts. It’s nice to have that bit of depth there.”
The arrival of former Ireland U20 international Daly further boosts the back division, which is currently shorn of Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Peter Robb, Colm De Buitlear and Kieran Marmion.
Daly has been signed on loan until the end of the season, although he won’t be available in time to face his former side this weekend.
Gavin Thornbury [head] and Sean O’Brien [shoulder] both picked up knocks in Perpignan and are being assessed.
Unlike their inter-provincial rivals who played tough Champions Cup battles in the last fortnight, Connacht had the luxury of resting many of their leaders.
Tiernan O’Halloran and Farrell sat out both Challenge Cup wins over Perpignan, Quinn Roux and Finlay Bealham didn’t travel to France, while Ultan Dillane was rested last weekend. Friend says he has plenty of options over the Christmas period.
“On the whole (they’re all) available. Joe (Schmidt) has been very good with that too. There is some restrictions over the course of the next three weeks, it’s just how they play out.
Andy Friend speaking with the media in Galway. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
“We have some plans and thoughts on the way we want to select these next three games — not every position of course, but certainly our Irish players. It just depends how we get through this week.
“We’ve rotated as best we can. That word ‘rotation’, you’ve got to be careful of that too, it just looks like you’re giving blokes an opportunity for no reason. We haven’t, we’ve given blokes an opportunity if they’re earned the right to have an opportunity.”
Five wins on the bounce have seen Connacht climb up to third in Conference A, and last weekend’s results mean they are in with a chance of reaching the quarter-finals in Europe too.
Confidence is high but Friend says they’re not getting too excited just yet.
“We’re high in confidence but not overconfident,” the head coach added.
“With every performance we’ve had and the wins in the last five games, straight away there has been a discussion on ‘we’ve got to be better in this area’ or ‘we need to fix this thing there’. And that’s been led by the players too.
“Yeah we are confident that our game is building but we have got a major test this weekend against the champions side of Europe. It’s an opportunity to see how we are truly going.”
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