Aki, Bealham and Blade return for Champions Cup home clash with Bristol


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Aki, Bealham and Blade return for Champions Cup home clash with Bristol Aki, Bealham and Blade return for Champions Cup home clash with Bristol


CONNACHT coach Pete Wilkins has defended the decision to rest World Cup players Bundee Aki and Finlay Bealham as they fell to a 34-20 in Lyon, their third defeat in this season’s Champions Cup and their eighth successive loss in the competition.

Bristol’s surprise heavy loss at home to a Bulls team without their World Cup winners has at least rendered a smidge of value to Friday’s clash at the Sportsground where a big Connacht win could snatch a place in the Challenge Cup — an outlandish series of bizarre results could even see them sneak into the Champions Cup — but that’s hardly the garland that was in mind when the fixture was made bringing Pat Lam back to the Sportsground.

The display of Tom Daly meant that Aki’s absence was not as acutely felt but the loss of Bealham, not least when his replacement at tighthead Jack Aungier cried off with flu on the morning of the game, was huge and Connacht were constantly pinged in the scrum.

Wilkins said they have no choice but to rest Aki, who made the three-day trip to France for the match in any event, and Bealham ahead of the Six Nations and it’s matter of which games they would stand them down for. Their third World Cup player, winger Mack Hansen, is injured for the next three or four months so they went to Lyon without a current international.

“We do have to rest them. We can’t play them every game between here and the Six Nations, so that’s decided for us. At the same time we can work out how and when we use them and certainly for us we felt we were in one or two situations.”

Wilkins said the schedule between returning from the World Cup and the start of the Six Nations made it even more difficult to select what games the players should be stood down for

“Which is the right game to not use? In Bundee’s case we thought about Ulster originally. But he was improving so much with every game that he was playing for us and the Ulster game became such an important game in the URC context, he and we were keen to keep him going. Munster he was never going to miss and then it was a choice between Lyon and Bristol, and Bristol being a Champions Cup game at home regardless of the context of the competition, we want our best possible team out there for that.

Pictured: Connacht scrum half Caolin Blade who is set to return for Friday’s Champions Cup clash against Bristol at the Sportsground.



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