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Contact with Joe Schmidt helped Aki reach Connacht contract decision

The 26-year-old qualifies to play for Ireland next year.

CONNACHT’S BUNDEE AKI says he is keen to play international rugby and that Joe Schmidt has been in regular contact with him.

The 26-year-old New Zealand-born centre has signed a three-year contract extension with Connacht and now wants to further his ambitions of playing at Test level.

Bundee Aki Aki alongside Pat Lam in Galway yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It was also confirmed yesterday that Irish lock Ultan Dillane has penned a new two-year deal, ending fears that both were set to leave at the end of this campaign.

Aki has featured for Connacht 47 times and scored eight tries in the two years since his debut. The Kiwi was one of the major driving forces as Connacht claimed the Guinness Pro12 title last season, the first trophy in their 131-year history.

His contract was due to run out at the end of this season, but the new deal will see him stay at Connacht until June 2020 at least.

Aki becomes eligible to play for Ireland in October next year and said he was never going to pursue a more lucrative offer. The fact that Schmidt has been in contact with the Connacht centre underlines the fact that an international green jersey awaits.

There was heaps of other options but I was happy where I am,” said Aki. “People chase money sometimes and it doesn’t work. If you are enjoying your rugby, why move?

“Joe has spoken to me. He has been giving me feedback about how I have been performing and things I can work on.

“I want to play rugby to the highest level, and if that opportunity arrives then I will take it with two hands.

“But my main focus at the moment is my provincial contract. I am playing with Connacht and I am trying to do as much as I can to make us play really well.”

22-year-old Dillane’s contract was also set to expire next summer and he was linked with a move back to Munster.

Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane Aki and Dillane are staying with Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The second row grew up in Tralee, having moved there from Paris when he was six, and played underage rugby with Munster before being snapped up by the Connacht academy.

Dillane burst onto the scene two seasons ago, and after three years in the academy he signed a professional deal in January 2015. The lock has five Ireland caps and has played for Connacht 34 times. Dillane said he was never going to leave the province.

“I am really happy with the extension,” said Dillane. “It wasn’t a tough decision to make. Connacht gave me all the opportunities I had.

With the great group of lads we have, and all of the great things we did last year, I see a great future for us.

“There was a lot of talk and a lot of guess work more than anything. There was a lot of speculation, but I am happy to be here and I was always going to stay.”

Connacht coach Pat Lam is proud that his players extended their stay instead of leaving for bigger salaries.

“It says a lot about both of them and that’s why I am really proud of both of them,” said Lam.

There are some many examples of guys who have gone for money to other places but are not enjoying their rugby at all.”

In the week of an inter-provincial derby with Leinster, Connacht have been further boosted with confirmation that fullback Tiernan O’Halloran, centre Eoin Griffin and prop Dominic Robertson-McCoy are all back fit, while new out-half Marnitz Boshoff has passed a medical exam and can begin full training.

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Daragh Small

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