Doubts linger over Aki and Marmion’s Connacht future

Head coach Andy Friend plagued with injury worries ahead of Friday’s clash with Leinster

Bundee Aki is set to return to the Connacht side for Friday’s clash with Leinster. Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon/Inpho

Bundee Aki is set to return to the Connacht side for Friday’s clash with Leinster. Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon/Inpho

 

Connacht are facing an injury crisis and the long term possibility of life without Ireland internationals Kieran Marmion and Bundee Aki.

Sidelined secondrow duo Gavin Thornbury (elbow) and Quinn Roux (pec) will damage this season’s prospects in a Champions Cup Pool that includes Montpellier, Toulouse and Gloucester.

Saracens are looking to add Marmion to their squad next season but should that deal fall through a number of English Premiership clubs would sign up the 27-year-old scrumhalf.

“Kieran is very aware that we would like him to stay,” said Connacht coach Andy Friend at the Heineken EPCR launch in Cardiff .”The sort of performance that he puts out there week after week would attract many clubs. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there is four or five other clubs, whether it’s Saracens or whoever else want to talk to him good luck to them.”

Marmion struggled with Joe Schmidt’s decision to take Luke McGrath to the World Cup as the second scrumhalf.

“It’s not just as easy as turning off a tap and saying ‘that didn’t happen, put on the Connacht jersey and off I go again’. Certainly for Kieran it was a really big blow for him, a really big blow, because he missed out on the previous one [in 2015]. He worked really really hard, he got himself to where he believed he was in a good position and the selection didn’t fall his way.

Kieran Marmion has been linked with a switch from Connacht to Saracens. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Kieran Marmion has been linked with a switch from Connacht to Saracens. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

“He shared with us that he was frustrated,. He shared with us that he loves living in Galway. He shared that he has had many a fun night at the Sportsground playing for Connacht. So, from our point of view, hopefully that’s the thing that he holds on to the most when he makes the decision.”

Aki strongly considered a switch to Munster or abroad in 2016 but re-signed for Connacht only to express a sense of betrayal when former coach Pat Lam subsequently announced he was joining Bristol. He has since expressed remorse about a social media post.

“That would be nice too [to keep Aki],” said Friend. “We’re in talks about recruitment but for me it’s a lot about retention, making sure you are keeping the right people. We have got a really healthy group of players there. It’s really important we lock down the main ones who have got us to where we currently are and we view them of being a very important part of where we want to build to.”

Aki’s departure from Connacht would more than likely signal the end of his international career as Munster are in advanced talks with Springbok centre Damian de Allende while Leinster are well stocked in midfield players. The 29-year-old’s durability would command a six figure salary in France, England or Japan.

Both Aki and Jack Carty will line up against Leinster in Galway on Friday night but Friend admits the province are struggling to cope with injuries.

“We have picked up two big injuries in the last couple of weeks. One to Quinn Roux with his pec and one with Gavin Thornbury with his elbow. Both of those men had been playing great rugby. Prior to that we had Paddy McAllister with a knee injury. We have already used 35 players in our opening five games. I think there is a belief and a view that Connacht are just swimming through these first five games.

“We used 50 players last year.

“Gavin has just had surgery on that elbow so we are probably looking at into the new year for him coming back. Yeah, it’s a massive blow. Quinn we’re probably looking at hopefully two or three weeks.”

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