Setback for Connacht as Aki return is delayed
Connacht have suffered a blow with Pro12 player of the season Bundee Aki sidelined for another couple of weeks as the champions try to give momentum to their faltering season.
Aki had targeted being back for Saturday's clash with the Dragons at the Sportsground as Pat Lam's men try to build on last weekend's encouraging win in Cardiff.
But Connacht backs coach Conor McPhillips says they could be without inspirational leader Aki for another two weeks.
The 26-year-old centre has been out since undergoing ankle surgery in December.
The New Zealand native signed a three-year contract extension earlier this season and will be eligible to play for Ireland at the end of 2017.
Aki has played 53 times for Connacht and scored nine tries since his arrival in 2014-'15, and was the key player as the province captured its first trophy last season.
"Bundee is not available for selection this week, but again the next two weeks, we can't make a call. Like anything, some guys heal quickly, some guys slower. It will hopefully be over the next two weeks. But we don't have a definite date," said McPhillips.
"We had a tough time with injuries, and that's well-documented. But when we get those guys back it's almost like a new signing.
"Bundee's presence on the pitch, we know his physical presence, but we underestimate how much a senior player he is. He's a leader, he drives our phase play, and the guys around it. It will be a big lift when these guys come back, especially Bundee."
Centre Stacey Ili is a doubt for Saturday's game at the Sportsground, after he picked up a minor ankle injury in the 19-13 comeback victory away to Cardiff Blues last weekend.
No 8 Eoghan Masterson, who has not played for Connacht in almost a year, is continuing to regain match fitness with Galwegians after a serious knee injury, but he won't feature this weekend for the province.
Former Springbok out-half Marnitz Boshoff, who has only played twice for Connacht since his move from South Africa this season, is set to return in mid-March. But there is a boost to the squad with the return of lock Ultan Dillane, and scrum-half Kieran Marmion from Ireland camp.
Both players came on as replacements in Ireland's 63-10 Six Nations victory over Italy last weekend, while tighthead prop Finlay Bealham and Tiernan O'Halloran, who joined up with the Connacht squad shortly before their game in Cardiff, are also available.