Connacht coach Andy Friend says it’s no surprise he has a battle on his hands to hold on to impressive flanker Colby Fainga’a, with Lyon apparently leading the way to try sign the Australian.
Fainga’a was voted Players’ Player of the Year in his first term at the Sportsground last season and the 28-year-old, who has been constantly impressive in his 30 appearances so far for Connacht, has attracted plenty of interest from other clubs.
Fainga’a made his debut for the Brumbies when Friend was head coach there in 2010 and the former Australian sevens and U20 player was selected on the PRO14 team of the season at the end of his first term at the Sportsground.
“Colby has been brilliant. He got our Players’ Player of the Year last year. I would imagine any club worth their salt would be looking at Colby Fainga’a, he is a hell of a footballer. There will be a lot of speculation around what his future is. I have no doubt that his agent and himself are probably fielding calls from everyone.
“At the end of the day it’s Colby’s call on that. Colby is at a stage of his career where he has got to be thinking about all sorts of things; his family, he has got a wife and two young kids. And it depends on what sort of money gets thrown at these men too. I know Colby loves it here in Connacht, I know his wife and family have settled here but you never know. He is at a different stage of his career to other young men too.
“I have no doubt there will be a lot of clubs who will be wanting to get Colby. He is one of our strongest go-forward ball-carriers. He is very, very astute in the way he plays the game.”
Meanwhile, Friend is backing Jack Carty to rediscover the sort of form for Connacht which saw him break into the Irish team a year ago and he said the Roscommon native came back full of energy this week after a break over Christmas.
And with Andy Farrell facing a nervous wait on Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery, Friend said the key thing for Carty to do was get his performance levels flying for Connacht and the international opportunity will arise again even if he was left out of Farrell’s initial squad after coming back from the World Cup.
“You don’t selected for your country unless you are playing good rugby for your province. That is what Jack did last year really well. He was one of the shining lights last year for us and he got rewarded with that green jersey. He knows the recipe to get back there and I am sure he will give it a shot.
“We saw when Jack came back, and a lot of the players that came back from the World Cup, it has been a tough campaign for those guys. His last 20 minutes here against Munster was fantastic.
“He didn’t feel like he was fatigued. But he went away on that break and halfway through the break I am getting texts saying ‘I didn’t realise I was tired Friendy, but I am feeling great now’. He has bounced back in here with Bundee, full of energy and can’t wait to get out there on Saturday. And I can’t wait to watch the pair of them. When they have got that energy back, which they have. You look in their eyes and they have got energy back. They are pretty special for us.”
The return of Aki and Carty are among nine players back for Connacht for Saturday’s must-win Heineken Champions Cup against Toulouse, with skipper Jarrad Butler, international lock Ultan Dillane, winger Matt Healy, centre Peter Robb, Fainga’a and props Finlay Bealham and Rory Burke also available.
Friend said that scans have confirmed that the ankle injury suffered by out-half Conor Fitzgerald is not as serious as initially feared but the 22-year old is likely to be out until next month.
“I would assume so,” added Friend if he expected him back when the PRO14 resumes in February. “The scan results have just come back. We will wait to get the full medical update on that.”