Bundee blow leaves Lam reeling for pivotal period
Bundee Aki will miss the Christmas derbies and Connacht's remaining European pool games after it emerged he must undergo surgery on a troublesome ankle injury.
The province have ruled out their star centre until after February in news that will undermine their ambitions of making the Champions Cup quarter-final and qualify for the tournament again next year.
Pat Lam is already dealing with a lengthy injury list, but now he must cope without his most influential player for a pivotal part of the season.
The westerners face Ulster tonight and host Munster on New Year's Eve before taking on Ospreys away as they attempt to bridge the gap that opened up at the beginning of the season when they made a slow start.
Currently in eighth place, Lam's side are seven points adrift of sixth-placed Glasgow Warriors as the league enters its halfway stage this weekend.
After the Ospreys game, Connacht's attention turns back to Europe where they should manage to secure a bonus-point win at home to Zebre without their talisman, but will then probably need at least the losing bonus point in Toulouse to progress to the quarter-final, depending on the French side's visit to Wasps a week previously.
Lam has also confirmed that prop Conor Carey is out for a long period as his worrying injury list continues to grow as he is forced to move winger Danie Poolman into the unfamiliar role of inside centre for tonight's game.
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"This week has probably been the most challenging I've had at Connacht Rugby with all the injuries, sickness and the group only coming together yesterday," he said. "Losing both Bundee (Aki) and Conor (Carey) to long-term injuries is a big blow especially with our injury crisis at prop and midfield."
A 26-member Ireland U-18 schools training squad was announced yesterday, with Leinster having the biggest representation with 10 players. Under head coach Noel McNamara, the squad will train in Dublin beween December 28 and 30.
Elsewhere, former Wales captain John Gwilliam has died, aged 93. Gwilliam won 23 caps between 1947 and 1954, leading Wales to two Grand Slams - the only Welsh captain to do so - and played in their last victory over the New Zealand All Blacks in December 1953.
A history teacher who became headmaster of Birkenhead School, he played for Cambridge University, Newport, Edinburgh Wanderers, Gloucester, London Welsh, Llanelli and Wasps.