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Lions centre Bundee Aki 'chomping at the bit' to make Connacht return

The centre hasn’t played since his red card for Ireland during the Six Nations.

Aki's most recent game was on 20 March.
Aki's most recent game was on 20 March.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

CONNACHT ASSISTANT COACH Pete Wilkins says centre Bundee Aki is “chomping at the bit” ahead of his expected return for the province on Saturday against Benetton in the Rainbow Cup.

Aki hasn’t played since being red-carded for a high tackle during Ireland’s Six Nations clash with England in March, having been suspended for Connacht’s four games since.

With his ban now served, Aki is once again available and will be looking to get back to form quickly having been selected for the Lions tour to South Africa this summer. 

Connacht only have two Rainbow Cup games left before the end of the season, with potential for a third if they manage to reach the final of the competition.

Aki – who had a knee issue earlier this year – has only made six starts for Connacht overall this season, as well as three for Ireland, meaning he is short of game time across the campaign.

As such, Aki will be keen to make a strong impression as Lions boss Warren Gatland continues to plan for the trip to South Africa.

“There’s enormous motivation there and he’ll want to put his best performance out there from the get-go in terms of putting his hand up to justify the selection, not because he needs to, but to justify his standing in terms of going into that squad,” said Connacht’s Wilkins this afternoon.

“Also, to demonstrate form before that tour that generates momentum going into the Lions tour as well.

“Enormous motivation, but the thing about Bundee is he very rarely needs that kind of external motivation to find that drive and excitement about the game and the standards he sets himself.

jason-leonard Aki is heading on tour with the Lions this summer. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“There is huge carrot for him at the end of this season but of all the people, he’s someone who would thrive regardless. It’s exciting for him and exciting for us as well to play some part in that too.”

Wilkins explained that Aki has remained a positive influence around the Connacht squad even while he has been suspended in recent times. 

Now the 31-year-old is ready to make his presence felt on the pitch again.

“He’s chomping at the bit as you can well imagine,” said Wilkins. “It feels like it’s been an awful long time since he’s had an opportunity and I guess it’s just a quirk of how the season has gone unfortunately for him.

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“Credit to Bundee, he’s continued to offer immense value behind the scenes. Whether that’s in terms of his personality and the infectious character that drives the atmosphere and the energy of those around him – that’s certainly been a quality of his on and off-field during this break.

“He’s trained at a really high standard, he’s generally been in that second team, that non-selected group that has your fringe players and a fair few young guys in there as well.

“For him to be partnering up with those guys and showing the leadership at training, not just in how he plays but calling them in and giving them advice as training goes on has been invaluable for those guys, that element of the squad.

“But he’s itching to get going and be back in the competitive arena again. It’ll be good for him, good for us and there’s a pretty exciting tour on the horizon for him to build towards.

“It all adds up to a guy that’s highly motivated but also very focused which at this end of the season can be a challenge, but isn’t for Bundee.”

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