Connacht won the Pro 12 during a historic season last term, beating Leinster in the final at Murrayfield. The western province were full value for their victory, with several standout performers.
However, arguably the star of the season was Pro 12 Player of the Year Bundee Aki. The Kiwi was a revelation in the midfield, combining physicality with raw footballing ability to give Pat Lam’s side an extra edge.
It has been widely anticipated that Aki would become a future Ireland international. Current residency rules state that a player must be plying his trade in a country for three years to be eligible to represent them on the international stage. Joe Schmidt has utilised this with CJ Stander making a huge impact in his debut season.
Aki, if he stays until the end of 2017, will be able to line out for Ireland.
However, I believe that the Kiwi does not intend to sign a new contract unless Connacht increase their offer significantly, and his current deal ends at the end of this season, in July 2017.
Should the former Chiefs centre depart, it would come as a blow to Connacht and Ireland. The lucrative offers from clubs in England and France may prove too tempting for the 26-year-old.
There is currently huge talent coming through at centre for Ireland, with Gary Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart Olding, Stuart Marshall, Jared Payne and Rory Scannell, to name but a few, all vying for the midfield jerseys.