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Tuesday 17 January 2017

Bundee injury may signal end to Connacht's season

Connacht coach Pat Lam. Pic: Sportsfile
Connacht coach Pat Lam. Pic: Sportsfile

This has all the hallmarks of the beginning of the end of Connacht's season.

The list of casualties revealed earlier in the week is catastrophic to their cause to back up what they did last season in Pat Lam's last season.

The Champions Cup quarter-finals definitely look beyond their reach in the company of rivals Wasps and Toulouse.

It is not even the number of currently obsolete players, it is the fact that Bundee Aki is among them.

In Ulster, Connacht had no focal point to play off in attack without the New Zealander.

There was no central threat to attract defenders, to collapse in the Ulster defence in order that their back three might exploit space wide out.

Aki is the type of natural athlete not in place in Irish rugby.

There is simply no one in the Ireland three-quarter line, never mind Connacht's, with comparable game-breaking skills.

He can be the freight train, the dancer, the offloader, the decoy, the distributor.

And that is just in attack.

At least, Connacht will have home advantage in the City of Tribes to halt what is a resurgent and relentless Munster.

In addition, Rassie Erasmus will have to travel without his most influential Ireland internationals.

This will leave the door to optimism slightly ajar were it not for Jacques Nienaber's suffocating defence, their direct power game and the emergence of Tyler Bleyendaal.

For all of that, Connacht have come so far. They have built a winning culture out of thin air.

It is time for those immune to international recognition to show why this province is bigger than any one player.

It could be enough to keep them close without being good enough.

connacht v munster, The Sportsground, Tomorrow (KO5.30, TG4)

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