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Aki ruled out until February as injury crisis forces Connacht to make 4 changes

“This week has probably been the most challenging I’ve had at Connacht,” says head coach Pat Lam.

Bundee Aki Bundee Aki will undergo surgery on his ankle. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Pat Lam has made four personnel changes to his starting line-up for tomorrow night’s Guinness Pro12 meeting with Ulster at Kingspan Stadium [KO 7.35pm, Sky Sports 2].

In a massive blow to the province, talismanic centre Bundee Aki will undergo surgery this week on an ongoing ankle injury which will keep him sidelined until mid-February. Due to a lack of available centres, Danie Poolman will slot in alongside Rory Parata in the Connacht midfield in Belfast.

Pat Lam is also dealing with an absence of props at the moment so hooker Tom McCartney will start on the bench in order to provide cover at loosehead. Dave Heffernan will wear the number two jersey instead.

James Cannon comes in to the side in place of Ultan Dillane to partner Quinn Roux in the second row, while Sean O’Brien is promoted from the bench to join the back row at the expense of Eoin McKeon.

Pat Lam Connacht head coach Pat Lam during yesterday's training session. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“This week has probably been the most challenging I’ve had at Connacht Rugby with all the injuries, sickness and the group only coming together yesterday,” said Connacht head coach Pat Lam.

“Losing both Bundee [Aki] and Conor [Carey] to long-term injuries is a big blow, especially with our injury crisis at prop and midfield. With 21 injuries in our squad it’s an opportunity for the next player still standing to come in and nail his role in our structures and systems.

“With the named squad not even training once together this week, there has been a huge emphasis once again on the classroom learning and mental preparation.

“I was really proud of the boys with the work they put in last week and the character they showed in adversity to grind out a big win. We’ll be looking for the same again this Friday night, albeit in a much tougher environment at a sold-out Kingspan Stadium and against a quality side like Ulster.

“We know we don’t have a good record up in Belfast but that just means this is a huge opportunity for us to create something special as a group. We’re really looking forward to the challenge.”

Jack Carty celebrates a conversion that wins Connacht the game Jack Carty celebrates after kicking the winning conversion for Connacht against Wasps last Saturday. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Connacht:

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Rory Parata
12. Danie Poolman
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Denis Buckley
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Quinn Roux
5. James Cannon
6. Sean O’Brien
7. Nepia Fox-Matamua
8. John Muldoon (captain)

Replacements:

16. Shane Delahunt
17. Tom McCartney
18. JP Cooney
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Eoin McKeon
21. Caolin Blade
22. Ciaran Gaffney
23. Naulia Dawai

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