HomeRugbyRugby IrishBundee Aki, Bealham & Blade available for Connacht Pau match

Bundee Aki, Bealham & Blade available for Connacht Pau match

Connacht Rugby are set to be boosted by the return of both Bundee Aki and Finlay Bealham for this Sunday’s Challenge Cup Round of 16 trip to French side Pau.

Both players were give additional time off following Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, with the province losing twice in a row to drop to 10th place in the BKT United Rugby Championship table.
However, as attention now turns to Europe, and their Challenge Cup last-16 trip to the south of France, head coach Pete Wilkins says the pair will be available to return.

🚨 Connacht Squad Update 🚨

Exciting news as Bundee & Finlay return after 6 Nations!

Tierney-Martin (neck), Blade(achilles), Porch(knee), O’Brien (thigh), with JJ & Oliver(RTPP) back in training too.

Unfortunately, McDonald (foot) Jansen (groin), Ralston (ankle), & Kilgallen (shoulder) are out with timelines TBD.

No changes for Dowling, Hansen & Cordero. #ConnachtRugby

“They were training at the back end of last week and will be fit for selection,” the Connacht coach said on Tuesday.
“It’s huge for us, I think both are obviously massive personalities in terms of the energy they give to the group and how popular they are around the place and they’re massive in that sense, culturally.

“Then, they bring that rugby intellect and that experience of big games and knockout games, and it’s great for us to have them on board. I think they’ll play a key part, not just on the weekend, but in our whole preparation leading up to that.”

The Six Nations winners will be among eight players who are back in full training this week after injury.

Out-half JJ Hanrahan and flanker Conor Oliver have both come through the return to play protocols after concussion in their defeat to the Lions on 23 March, while scrum-half Caolin Blade, who missed last week’s loss to Benetton, has shaken off a knee injury.

Hooker Dylan Tierney Martin, utility back John Porch, and back row Sean O’Brien are also available for selection after overcoming injuries, but Byron Ralston, Sean Jansen, Michael McDonald and Diarmuid Kilgallen have been ruled out.

Sunday’s opponents Section Paloise (Pau) also come into this weekend’s game off the back of successive defeats, losing narrowly to both Toulouse and Clermont, but Sebastien Piqueronies’ side have enjoyed a steady season to date in the French Top14, sitting just one spot outside the playoffs in seventh, with six games left in the regular season.

The French side, who can boast the quality of ex-All Black lock Sam Whitelock, will provide a similar challenge to the one Connacht faced in Italy on Saturday, according to Wilkins.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us. I think it’s good timing in terms of the challenge and the type of venue, the type of opposition we’re playing. I think it won’t be too dissimilar from our Benetton experience in terms of travel, the type of conditions we’re playing in, the type of team we’re up against.

“Pau have their own qualities, but I think our lessons of what we did well and what we can improve on from the game in Italy last week will be a really important part of setting us up for success in France this weekend.

“In terms of the Challenge Cup, we can’t wait, the group’s certainly not lacking in energy, we don’t need a lift, it’s just another thing to be excited about,” Wilkins added.

It’s been an inconsistent season from the province, who had been on a three-game winning run in the URC before their dismal defeat to the Lions was followed up by an agonising loss away to Benetton, with the hosts scoring a try in the final minute to claim an 18-14 win.

But Wilkins says he saw clear signs of improvement in Italy last week.

“Against Benetton our energy and physicality was top class, and it needed to be because were essentially playing an international team there and we knew the contact area, both sides of the ball would be an enormous factor in terms of that battle, and I think the lads responded mentally and physically and exactly the way that we hoped and probably knew they would after the Lions disappointment.

“Ultimately we weren’t able to get the job one, and crucially to only have 40% territory in that second half against Benetton in a close game away from home, but particularly a close game away from home where we were protecting a narrow lead going into the back end of the game, you want to be as far away as possible from your own line and we just gave them too much opportunity on our own half and they were good enough to take it and we weren’t good enough to stop it.


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