Bundee Aki returns to Connacht side for key Cardiff clash

Andy Friend’s side will qualify for Champions Cup and Pro14 play-offs with victory

Bundee Aki returns for Connacht against Cardiff. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Pro 14, Connacht v Cardiff Blues, Saturday April 13th, Sportsground (kick-off 3.0pm, TG4)

Bundee Aki returns to the Connacht side for Saturday’s crunch Pro14 clash against Cardiff Blues in Galway.

Victory for the province over the Welsh will see them secure a spot in the Pro14 play-offs, as well as a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.

The return of Aki is a huge boost, then, with Andy Friend making one other change as Paul Boyle replaces Eoin McKeon in the backrow.


Tiernan O'Halloran, Darragh Leader and Matt Healy start in the back three, while Aki is joined by Tom Farrell in a powerful midfield. Ireland's Jack Carty continues at outhalf, with Caolin Blade at nine.

Denis Buckley and Dominic Robertson McCoy start at prop either side of Dave Heffernan, with Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury in the engineroom. Boyle, Colby Fainga'a and captain Jarrad Butler complete the pack.

Ahead of Saturday’s fixture at a sold-out Sportsground, Connacht coach Andy Friend said: “We know what we need to do to get a result. We must make sure we are nice and direct, that we control the football when we have it, and when we don’t, we don’t give them easy yardage.

“We have made just two changes from the side that played last weekend, so we have consistency which is important going into a big game like this.

“We welcome Bundee Aki back into the side and as always he is raring to go and get out there in front of the Sportsground crowd.

“Paul Boyle also comes back into the backrow where we have the luxury of being able to rotate players due to our depth. We also have some great options off the bench.”

Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga'a, Jarrad Butler (capt). Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher.

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Jason Harries; Gareth Anscombe (capt.), Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Ethan Lewis, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Seb Davies. Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Carre, Dmitri Arhip, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Lloyd Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith.