CONNACHT HAVE SUFFERED a blow with flanker Jake Heenan ruled out for most of the season.
Forwards coach Jimmy Duffy is hopeful Heenan will play again for the province but the flanker faces a race against time to come back from troublesome shoulder injury.
Heenan departs Connacht at the end of the current campaign, with Pat Lam’s Bristol the likely destination, but he may not feature again in a Connacht jersey.
The 25-year-old openside has scored five tries in 57 appearances since arriving for to the 2013-14 season.
The Auckland native will be out until April at least after he had surgery on an injury he picked up at Cardiff Blues on November 24.
“Jake is a super guy on and off field. He always delivers on the field and off field his leadership is a real strength,” said Duffy.
“It’s tough. A really attritional position and we are really disappointed for Jake to have an injury. But in terms of someone that has had injuries in the past, I have yet to see a player that has worked as hard to get himself back in a position to play as soon as possible.
“Speaking with him last week, he is really determined to get back fit as quick as he possibly can. He will give himself every opportunity to get back by working hard with the medics here and S&C staff to get himself in the physical shape to get back and perform.”
Connacht have lost against Cardiff and Zebre in PRO14 recently but travel to Brive on Saturday where they will look to stay top of Pool 5 in the Challenge Cup.
And new Ireland international centre Bundee Aki could be back in the side after his impressive Autumn.
“Bundee is back available for selection. We have a pretty squad list to choose from at the minute,” said Duffy.
“It’s never down to one player. We would look at the options that we have and combinations we have.
“A player of Bundee’s ability is obviously always welcome to have back in the group.
“But we are still working through a few things and looking at options for the weekend.”
And with Munster struggling to secure the signature of their captain Peter O’Mahony for next season, Duffy says that it is the unfortunate reality that English and French clubs could outbid their Irish counter-parts.
“It’s just the landscape out there at the minute. There is not a lot that I or we can do about it,” said Duffy.
“We just have to make sure that the environment we have here is productive and players get better in that environment.
“And it’s a good place for players to learn their trade and hopefully experience a high level of professionalism. That’s an offering we provide.
“It’s just part of it and it’s the way the game is unfortunately.”
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