Bundee Aki has apologised to his Connacht teammates and coaches after being sent off just when it seemed they had closed the gap on URC champions the Stormers in Stellenbosch on Saturday.
Forwards coach Dewald Senekal said the Irish centre was extremely apologetic for being sent off for a reckless challenge on Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla, with his centre partner Tom Farrell finishing off the move with a try under the posts which which would have cut the gap to four points.
But the try was scratched after Aki, the only player to be twice sent off playing for Ireland, was red-carded and the champions pushed on for a 38-15 win.
“The red card was basically a 14-point swing,” said Senkal. “It was a nice action getting us behind the line but unfortunately in the modern game, and we know this season it is something World Rugby has clamped on a lot.
“Back in my day I would have got away with a few of those but unfortunately now with the new rules and how that’s being managed, three centimetres or four centimetres to the left and it would maybe have been a different outcome but at this stage, yeah, it is a red card.
“Bundee has been extremely apologetic about it. In the moment, we all know him and love him to bits for his youthful energy. He might have reacted wrongfully to the ref in that moment but I think he was looking for a clear response from the ref but he’s been with us the whole week and this week is trying to help the boys prepare for the next game.”
Aki has remained on with the squad in South Africa. The squad will remain in camp in Stellenbosch until Thursday before travelling to Pretoria to take on the Bulls on Friday evening.
Connacht are waiting for details on a disciplinary hearing for Aki but it is feared he could be hit with a lengthy suspension given his two Test red cards and his reaction to the referee and fourth official after he was sent off on Saturday.
Senekal said that Aki can still contribute a lot to Connacht’s preparations this week as they bid to halt their poor start to the season which sees them being the only team in the URC not to have picked up point so far.
“Bundee loves Connacht rugby and every day he comes in he brings energy and he always wants the team to do well,” added Senekal. “Like even last year or preseason when he wasn’t supposed to be training with us, he’s always on the field, he’s always coaching the boys and pushing them from behind.
“He wants to have positive influences for the province because he loves it so much. Quite often in games when he is 24th or 25th man, all of a sudden you will have him on the coaches’ radios, he has taken one from downstairs, and he’s giving us clues from pitchside.
"And that’s the type of passion he is, so obviously we would love for him to be available for us because he has such a massive influence, but that’s rugby and we need to be a little bit more clever around that.
“I think one of the frustrations for us in our first two games has been how it has taken us to adapt to, not interpretations because we knew exactly what they were, but we have been giving away too many penalties and feeding opposition free entries to our 22 and letting them off the hook.”
Meanwhile, scrum-half Caolin Blade is travelling home this week and is waiting on a scan to assess an ankle injury which prevents him from linking up with the Emerging Ireland squad in Bloemfontein.
Scrum-half Colm Reilly is one of five additional players who arrived in Connacht camp on Saturday, with captain Jack Carty also linking up with them as they prepare to take on Jake White’s side on Friday.