Connacht without Aki and Hansen for dead rubber

Ireland internationals will miss final URC game of the season against Zebre

Irish internationals Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen are unavailable for Connacht's final URC fixture on Saturday.

Aki, who is nursing a minor knee injury, and Hansen, with a wrist injury, will join Paul Boyle (toe), and scrumhalf Caolin Blade (ankle) on the sidelines when Zebre visit the Sportsground.

Only pride is at stake for both sides, but Connacht want to give the 12 players who are leaving the province a winning send-off in front of what is expected to be a full house.

However, coach Andy Friend says preparing for the fixture after a three-week break has been "tricky" in what has been a season of "inconsistency, and with that missed opportunities".

“You’ve got players exiting, the last game, which is still an important game. (It’s) another chance to play in front of family and friends, and put on the Connacht jersey,” Friend says. “We’ve played some great rugby and won some crucial games, but overall it’s been a season of inconsistency.”

Leinster, he's says, are the leading lights, "showing Europe just how good they are as a quality organisation".

"Weirdly I really enjoyed watching them put that scoreline on Toulouse. We have played them (Leinster) four times this season, no other team in Europe has done that, and we probably gave them one of the best hit-outs which was at the Sportsground.

“But it hurts every time you lose to Leinster, and you lose by a score, but when see them doing it to other teams, you realise just how professional they are. They are setting the benchmark and we need to get there.

“There has been some really good adjustments to that from both players and staff, and our message at the front end of this week is ‘let’s keep that’. That’s our new habit, and as we continue to grow and build, we have to keep that level of intent and professionalism.”

As a result Friend says Connacht will be giving full respect to Saturday’s visitors.

“In the last three games, they have probably played some of the best football. They won’t be coming here to lay down for us, but we have to make sure we play our style of rugby that we have shown at times during the year and work harder than them. I believe have we have enough firepower to cause them trouble.”

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