‘He’ll be here’ - Andy Friend dismisses rumours of Bundee Aki’s departure

Connacht DOR stands by selection for Challenge Cup defeat to Newcastle

Connacht coaching director Andy Friend has scotched continuing rumours of Bundee Aki heading to Munster, or elsewhere.

The Ireland centre, currently involved with Ireland’s Six Nations, was left out of Connacht’s final Challenge Cup pool game against Newcastle, raising concern for his future at the Sportsground.

“I have no doubt he’ll be here - it is all just paper talk as far as I am aware,” Friend says.

However he maintains that Connacht’s selection last weekend was right despite the 35-21 loss.


“We picked a team based on form and what we felt was right for last weekend. We didn’t get the job done, which was very disappointing, so we have to own that. But no, at the time we selected the team, it was the right team.”

He says Aki is away for the next five weeks, and “the ideal scenario is that he has a great Six Nations and comes back to us raring to go”.

Following Connacht’s poor result against Newcastle in the final European Challenge Cup pool game, Alex Wootton has been ruled out, having sustained an HIA. However, there are hopes outhalf Jack Carty will be fit, having trained today.

“We will see how he pulls up. We had him involved last week, but he picked up a knee injury, so he couldn’t travel with us, but he trained today and looked a lot better.”

Also ruled out is Byron Ralston, who is seeing a specialist for an ankle injury, while hooker Dave Heffernan has a knee injury, which is currently being monitored. Paul Boyle has returned to training earlier than expected, but is unlikely to be ready this weekend, while Cian Prendergast is unavailable due to his involvement with the Ireland camp.

Connacht now need to put behind them last weekend’s unexpected performance and consequential loss to Newcastle Falcons, which, after three successive wins, denied them an opportunity of a top two seeding in the European Challenge Cup had they won.

“We have reviewed it. It’s frustrating, we can’t change it, and we sit here knowing it was a massive opportunity missed.

“We had learned some stats leading into the game that Connacht against English teams had not fared that well over the last 13 years, so to turn up to Newcastle and make what was already a difficult job more difficult by an opening 20 minutes that leaked seven penalties and 21 points, makes it really difficult to come back.”

Connacht now prepare for the visit of the South African Lions on Saturday (7.35pm) who are just a point adrift of their hosts on the URC table.

“We know they are tenacious, have a massive scrum, big forward pack, and an amazing capacity to make you miss tackles. Although we did leak 35 points at the weekend, I am comfortable and confident our defence is one of the strongest parts of our game, but a South African team coming here on the last week of their tour - they will have bonded well, and will be buoyed by their win [30-25 over Dragons] on the weekend, and no doubt they will be targeting us on Saturday night.”