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Dublin: 9°C Monday 10 May 2021

New Zealand sevens star in line for earlier-than-expected Connacht debut

Pita Ahki has impressed in training and could feature against Cardiff Blues on Friday.

Ahki helped New Zealand to a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Ahki helped New Zealand to a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Image: Photosport/Jayne Russell/INPHO

NEW SIGNING PITA Ahki looks set to debut for Connacht this weekend as Kieran Keane’s side seek to stretch their winning streak to five games.

With Bundee Aki away on Ireland duty, his compatriot Ahki could be handed a shock first start just two weeks since he linked up with his new team-mates for the first time.

Connacht coach Peter Wilkins says the promising centre has impressed in training and with Aki away with Ireland and Craig Ronaldson, Peter Robb and Stacey Ili all out injured, the New Zealand Sevens star might be too good to leave out.

“Pita is fully training,” Wilkins said. “He was in last week and was training while the rest of the boys were having their down time.

“He trained again this week and looks like a real exciting prospect. Everyone is looking forward to working and playing with him.

“He is an explosive athlete and has got good skills. Enjoys defending as well as attacking with ball in hand which is obviously important for us in that position.

“It happens less often because players need a bit of natural time to pick up on game plans and calls and styles of play in attack and defence.

“That said if someone is really good player you want them around and we are excited by what he is going to bring to us. He is contention and that’s good for us and we will have a look at that as the week progresses.

“We are excited that it has all come together and that he can be part of what we are doing here. Everyone is looking forward to him being involved.

“He has settled in well. He’s a good guy, relatively quiet as you would expect from anyone coming into a group for the first time, but he said a couple of words in the team meeting on Sunday where he came in introduce himself. He will go really well for us.”

Pita Ahki is tackled by Brodie Retallick The 25-year-old played with the Bulls and Hurricanes in Super Rugby. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

The former Waikato player has added depth to Connacht’s midfield while Eoin Griffin has also returned from a calf injury.

And in the back row they have been boosted by Eoin McKeon and Jake Heenan being available again as Connacht go in search of their fifth win in a row against Cardiff Blues when the Pro14 returns this weekend.

“Eoin has been fantastic. I have enjoyed working with him. Both sides of the ball he does a lot of good things for us,” said Wilkins.

“He has had some stand-out games, particularly down at Scarlets, I thought he was excellent. It will be good to have him and Jake available and we can make some decisions around that.”

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