Aki return boosts Connacht for Treviso trip
Bundee Aki is back and is fired up to guide Connacht into the Champions Cup next season when new coach Kieran Keane arrives at the Sportsground.
Keane joined the Chiefs as assistant coach after Aki helped them to Super Rugby glory, and the return of the Pro12 player of the season is a timely boost as Connacht try to get back into contention to reach Europe's premier competition next term.
Connacht will tomorrow (12.30 kick-off) bid to correct a poor record in Treviso - theywere pipped last season with an understrength side just weeks before they lifted the Pro12 crown.
The return of Aki for first time since December is one of five changes as the champions prepare for two clashes against the Italian sides in six days.
A bonus point win against a Treviso side with eight away on international duty tomorrow and a similar outcome against Zebre in the Sportsground next Friday would give Connacht's Champions Cup hopes a big boost.
Coach Pat Lam said that the return of Aki from an ankle injury is a timely boost as his side head to Treviso, where they have won just twice in six visits - they have drawn there once and lost three times.
"His leadership is massive, calling the shots. And he is big for Jack Carty as well, and Craig Ronaldson, so you see the difference when he is there," explained Lam.
"We have only a five-day turnaround, so it's important that we get our mental preparation spot on as well as the physical side of things."
Aside from the return of Aki to the centre, Danie Poolman comes in for the injured Matt Healy on the left wing.
There are three changes up front, with Shane Delahunt taking over from Dave Heffernan at hooker, while James Cannon starts instead of Quinn Roux in the second-row and Nepia Fox-Matamua takes over from Jake Heenan in the back-row.
Treviso - L Sperandio; M Tagicakibau, T Iannone, A Sgarbi, A Buondonno; I McKinley, T Tebaldi; F Zani, L Bigi, T Pasquali; T Paulo, D Budd; M Lazzaroni, F Minto, R Barbieri. Reps: R Santamaria, M Zanusso, M Irving, L Nostran, F Ferrarini, E Francescato, A Pratichetti, D Odiete.
Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, D Poolman; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; S O'Brien, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon. Reps: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, J Andress, Q Roux, N Dawai, John Cooney, T Farrell, S Ili.
Ref - I Davies (WRU).