Connacht’s Bundee Aki, Paul Boyle and Jack Aungier in doubt for Sharks clash

Senior coach Pete Wilkins optimistic despite expecting ‘enormous challenge’

Bundee Aki is one of three players who may be left out this weekend when Connacht take on the Sharks in Durban.

The Ireland centre is suffering "bumps and bruises" from Connacht's hard-earned 33-30 win over the Lions, and he, along with Paul Boyle, who has a toe injury, and prop Jack Aungier with HIA, have been restricted in training this week.

Senior coach Pete Wilkins says no one has been ruled out, but the trio are on "light duties" and will be tested over the next 24 hours, while the good news is the availability of prop Finlay Bealham, who has "bounced back" from a head knock.

This first visit to Kings Park comes after an under-strength Leinster outfit were beaten 28-23 by the South African side last Saturday, moving the Sharks into the top four – on the same points as Munster and Ulster – but still 10 points off Leo Cullen's side.

Connacht will travel in more confident form, having enjoyed a "collective satisfaction" in achieving victory in South Africa, particularly on the back of a dismal result against Leinster in the Aviva.

‘Bounced back’

“Not too many teams have won on African soil, so that is an achievement we have to respect, but at the same time, the review was as if Connacht had lost,” he said, “needing to improve the things we could have controlled better, needing to look for more ways for this group to grow in the medium and long term, but also in the short term so we are better against the Sharks, knowing this weekend’s opponents would probably punish us more severely”.

Wilkins says despite the altitude change, the players had “bounced back better and quicker than expected”, despite tough training earlier in the week.

“We did push the players probably above match pace during the week to give them the whole physical and mental experience to know what was coming. I think that helped a lot, but also that there was a low amount of ball-in-play time – something like 31 minutes – the lowest this season so far, so although the altitude and heat were testing for the lads, they had windows to recover throughout.”

However, the Sharks, he says, have “real power and effectiveness from their set-piece game, which will be an enormous challenge”.

“It is one the lads are excited about, having had a taste of it against the Lions. It is also an area the Sharks will be comfortable, to take the game down that route, while they have an electrifying back three – guys who have pace and power that if you don’t kick-chase well or have too many one-on-one in defence, they can certainly tear teams apart, and we saw that against Leinster.

“There are not many teams which show you the way in terms of attack against them, but we have elements of our game we feel will be effective, particularly aspects of which we practised this week. If can get that detail right at the weekend we can cause them some problems.”