Bundee Aki reveals Joe Schmidt 'feedback' conversation that helped keep him in Connacht
Connacht coach Pat Lam has heaped praise on Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane for staying with the Pro12 champions when there might have been more lucrative offers on the table.
Aki's contract will keep him at Connacht until after the next World Cup - he becomes eligible for Ireland in 12 months' time - while Dillane has signed on for an extra two years.
"It says a lot about both of them and that's why I am really proud of both of them," said Lam. "There are so many examples of guys who have gone for money to other places but are not enjoying their rugby at all."
Aki (26) has played 47 times for Connacht and scored eight tries since he made his debut away to the Ospreys two years ago. The New Zealander won the Pro12 player of the year last season, as Connacht claimed the title. And after some brilliant displays at the beginning of this term, the rampaging centre attracted offers from overseas and within Ireland.
His contract was due to run out at the end of this campaign but his new deal will see him stay with Connacht until June 2020.
"There was heaps of other options but I was happy where I am, that made it easier. People chase money sometimes and it doesn't work out. If you are enjoying your rugby why move," said Aki. "Joe Schmidt has spoken to me about how I have been playing. He has been giving me feedback about how I have been performing and things I can work on.
"Obviously I want to play rugby to the highest level, and if that opportunity arrives then I will take it with two hands. But my main focus at the moment, is my provincial contract. I am playing with Connacht and I am trying to do as much as I can to make us play really well."
Dillane (22), who is from Tralee but was born in Paris, has been capped five times for Ireland since his remarkable rise through the Connacht ranks. He made his professional debut in 2014-'15, but after three years in the Connacht academy, progressed to a senior contract in January of that season.
The second-row has featured 34 times and his deal will keep him at the province up to June 2019. Dillane said that moving back to Munster was never on the cards.
"I am really happy with the extension. It wasn't a tough decision to make. Connacht gave me all the opportunities I had," said Dillane. "With the great group of lads we have, and all of the great things we done last year I see a great future for us. There was a lot of talk and a lot of guess work. But I am happy to be here and I was always going to stay."
CEO Willie Ruane knows the significance of this announcement.
"I can't say enough for them, they came in and it was very, very straightforward," said Ruane.
Connacht welcome back full-back Tiernan O'Halloran, centre Eoin Griffin and prop Dominic Roberston-McCoy from injury for their Pro12 clash with Leinster on Saturday. Out-half Marnitz Boshoff came through a medical and has been passed fit to commence full training.