Sunday 8 December 2019

Aki commits to Connacht while Best prepares to end his long goodbye

Aki: “I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to represent both Connacht and Ireland and am delighted to extend my Irish Rugby Football Union contract.” Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Aki: “I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to represent both Connacht and Ireland and am delighted to extend my Irish Rugby Football Union contract.” Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Nigel Whittaker

Bundee Aki has become Connacht's first centrally-contracted player with the IRFU after the 29-year-old midfielder agreed a three-year contract extension that will tie him to the province until 2023.

New Zealand-born Aki qualifies to play for Ireland under the residency rule and has won 23 caps since making his debut against South Africa in 2017 and started every match of the Grand Slam triumph a year later.

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The powerful centre was a key member of Ireland's squad for the recent World Cup in Japan until receiving a red card for a high tackle against Samoa.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity I've been given to represent both Connacht and Ireland and am delighted to extend my Irish Rugby Football Union contract," Aki said.

"Everyone in Connacht has been incredibly supportive of both me and my family and the Ireland supporters have been fantastic since I was selected for the national squad.

"I want to play my part in helping Connacht achieve their ambitious plans in the years to come."

Aki joined Connacht in 2014 and was instrumental in the province's PRO12 success in 2016.

Final

Meanwhile, former Ireland captain Rory Best will play the final match of his professional career in Cardiff's Principality Stadium this afternoon (kick-off 2.45pm) when he leads the Barbarians out against Wales.

The former Ulster captain, of course, retired from top-class rugby after Ireland's World Cup exit but has enjoyed a few more hit-outs with the touring side.

He led the Barbarians in the narrow 31-33 defeat to Fiji at Twickenham and was a substitute in the 47-22 win in Brazil. While in Sao Paolo, Best stole the show by slotting over a left-footed conversion.

Today, he is set to finally play the last game of his professional career.

It will also be an emotional occasion for Warren Gatland as he takes charge of the Baa-Baas, with Wayne Pivac, his successor as Wales head coach, in the home dressing-room.

WALES - L Halfpenny; J McNicholl, O Watkin, H Parkes, J Adams; J Evans, T Williams; W Jones, K Owens, D Lewis, J Ball, A Beard, A Shingler, J Tipuric (capt), A Wainwright. Reps: E Dee, R Evans, L Brown, S Davies, O Griffiths, G Davies, S Davies, O Lane.

BARBARIANS - S Stevenson (New Zealand); D Leyds (RSA), M Bastareaud (Fra), A Esterhuizen (RSA), C Hendricks (RSA); C Bosch (RSA), B Hall (New Zealand); C Maafu (Fiji), R Best (capt, Ireland), W Herbst (RSA), L Jones (Aus), T Ardron (Canada), P Samu (Aus), M van Staden (RSA), J Strauss (Sco). Reps: S Brits (RSA), C Millar (RSA), H van Wyk (RSA), G Biagi (Italy), A Cottrell (Aus), J Vermaak (RSA), B Meakes (Aus), M Duffie (New Zealand).

Ref - Nigel Owens (WRU).

Wales v Barbarians

Live, Channel 4, 2.45

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