Aki set to make first appearance of season against Edinburgh
Connacht centre cleared by IRFU to take on Scots at Murrayfield
Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion are in the frame to start for Connacht against Edinburgh. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Ireland centre Bundee Aki is to make his first appearance for Connacht this season when Andy Friend’s squad face Edinburgh on Friday evening.
Aki, already with 75 Connacht caps under his belt, has been champing at the bit since the start of the season to see some Guinness Pro14 action, and he has now been now cleared by the IRFU to return to action with the province.
“Bundee is back,” says Friend, “and the intention is to get him back as soon as we can.”
And with fellow Ireland team-mates, Kieran Marmion and locks Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane, who is recovering from a knock, “ready to go”, the Connacht coach says they will add “more stability and starch” to the team for their visit to Murrayfield.
Aki is expected to partner Kyle Godwin in midfield, with Tom Farrell ruled out for another week to recover from last week’s virus, having lost a “fair bit of weight”.
No 8 Robin Copeland, who is also back training, may not make the starting XV this week.
“He is training fully, but it is just how we mange his entry. We’ll make a decision in the next couple of days.”
Friend says Connacht are blessed to have a healthy squad with Colby Fainga’a also impressing on his introduction in the bonus-point victory over Zebre last weekend.
“Potentially we could start him, but I am big on rewarding performance. We had Sean O’Brien who had his first game and played really well; Jarrad [Butler] as the skipper, can’t fault his game; and Paul Boyle, can’t fault his game. I think as a player, you need to be rewarded for those performances.
“Boyle is a young man who has just made every post a winner this year. He got the Man of the Match from the pundits, but more importantly also from his peers he got the Players’ Player, so it’s hard not to continue picking a player like that when he is in the form he is in.
“Colby is a 100 cap Super Rugby player, and he could easily come and in and fill it, but do we drop a bloke because Colby is coming back? Not sure yet.
“What is pleasing is we have some real depth and quality coming through, it’s how we balance it while rewarding good performances at the same time. And we need that physicality against this Edinburgh side.”
Having lost their two opening matches – last weekend to Ulster when scrumhalf John Cooney landed a late penalty to win 30-29 – Edinburgh will be desperate to get a victory, and they will be missing Scotland centre Mark Bennett, who suffered a suspected ruptured hamstring.
“We know Edinburgh are smarting from two losses. You watch the first 50 minutes of the Ulster game and they are a hell of a side, so they will be really upset with that. They are back in front of their home crowd, and will do all they can to kickstart their season, so we know what’s coming and we have to respect that, but at the same time we have to do a job.
“Little points in these games are big. Kicking accuracy can often determine games, but for me it’s our defence. I think these big games in the championship are won on defence. You need to stand up and make your tackles, deny the oposition time and space, but if you leak early, like we did against Glasgow, then you have to chase a game and it becomes difficult from there.”