Connacht have been boosted by the return of Bundee Aki to training ahead of Saturday’s inter-pro clash with Leinster at the RDS.
Aki returned to Ireland on Monday following his wedding in New Zealand but coach Andy Friend has yet to decide if he will feature this weekend.
Aki only missed one game because of his nuptials – Connacht’s 36-21 bonus-point win away to Perpignan – and in a further boost for the westerners, his regular centre partner Tom Farrell is also available after a lay-off.
“He [Aki] is back. He got back from his wedding on Monday,” Friend said.
“So he was out there training Tuesday and we’ll make a decision later on in the week whether he is involved or not. Bundee is very keen to play. He is a footballer, he just wants to be out there playing. But it’s how we manage that. “Tom Farrell is also good to go and so is Kyle Godwin.
“It’s nice to have that bit of depth there.”
The arrival of former Ireland U20 international Tom Daly further boosts the back division, which is currently without 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.
It means that Friend 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 are some restrictions over the course of the next three weeks, it’s just how they play out.
“We have some plans and thoughts in terms of selections for 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’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 also.
Confidence is high but Friend had a word of warning: “We’re high in confidence but not over-confident. We’re getting results, which is pleasing, but at the same time we’re not getting too carried away with that.
“With every performance we’ve had and the wins in the last five games, straight away there has been discussion on ‘we’re got to be better in this area’ or ‘we need to fix this thing there’. And that’s been led by the players. 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.”