Aki named in Champions Cup opener

07 December 2023

Aki named in Champions Cup opener

Bundee Aki has been handed his first Connacht start of the season in tomorrow’s Investec Champions Cup opener against Bordeaux-Begles at The Sportsground (k/o 8pm). 

The World Player of the Year nominee has recovered from a hamstring injury to make his first appearance since Ireland’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final.

His inclusion is one of five changes from the side that started last week’s game against Leinster, with Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Joe Joyce and Andrew Smith also coming into the starting XV.

Dave Heffernan joins Buckley and Bealham in an experienced front row, while Darragh Murray is retained in the second row. The back row is unchanged from last week with number 8 Sean Jansen beside flankers Cian Prendergast and Shamus Hurley-Langton.

Caolin Blade and JJ Hanrahan continue their half-back partnership, while the remaining backline is reshuffled. Cathal Forde moves from 12 to 13 to partner Aki in the centre, while Byron Ralston shifts to the wing and Mack Hansen moves to full-back. Smith completes the side from the opposite wing.

Commenting ahead of the game, head coach Pete Wilkins says:

“Champions Cup nights at The Sportsground are special occasions and we expect Friday to be no different.

Of course there was disappointment with Saturday's result against Leinster but it shows we have the quality to perform against the best teams in Europe. We used Monday to review and bank the lessons from the game, and the whole squad is excited to get back out in front of another big crowd against another quality opponent.  

Bordeaux will arrive with a star-studded squad and, like many French sides, will have x-factor players who can light up a game if you give them the chance. For us it is a fantastic opportunity show we can impose our personalities and style of play against a quality team on the biggest European stage. 

The atmosphere at The Sportsground last week was unbelievable and I’ve no doubt it will be something similar again tomorrow night. Our incredible supporters provide so much energy to the players and we look forward to rewarding them with a massive performance.”  

20:00, Friday 8th December 2023 @ The Sportsground

15. Mack Hansen (29)
14. Byron Ralston (22)
13. Cathal Forde (19)
12. Bundee Aki (127)
11. Andrew Smith (4)
10. JJ Hanrahan (6)
9. Caolin Blade (177)
1. Denis Buckley (234)
2. Dave Heffernan (184)
3. Finlay Bealham (192)
4. Darragh Murray (14)
5. Joe Joyce (6)
6. Cian Prendergast (53)
7. Shamus Hurley-Langton (26)
8. Seán Jansen (2)

16. Tadgh McElroy (6)
17. Peter Dooley (24)
18. Jack Aungier (55)
19. Niall Murray (62)
20. Conor Oliver (69)
21. Michael McDonald *
22. David Hawkshaw (19)
23. John Porch (82)