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Pat Lam's imports ready to deliver trophy for Connacht in Pro12 Leinster final

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 27/05/2016

International hopes: Tom McCartney will qualify to play for Ireland in 2017
International hopes: Tom McCartney will qualify to play for Ireland in 2017

Pat Lam - whose Connacht side face Irish rivals Leinster in the Pro12 final at Murrayfield tomorrow (5.30pm ko) - has only been back to New Zealand once in the three years since he took over the western province and the trip was strictly business.

In 2013, towards the end of his first season in charge, the former Samoa captain travelled across the world in the hope of convincing a couple of players to come and join him in the west of Ireland.

The highest profile name he secured was that of All Black centurion Mils Muliaina, but the two most important signatures he secured were those of Bundee Aki and Tom McCartney.

The Samoan centre has been a sensation since he first arrived in Galway, but aficionados of forward play have quietly been admiring the former Auckland hooker who has slotted into the Connacht front-row and become a leader in the team.

With his big carries, monstrous tackles and spectacular tries, Aki was always going to hog the limelight.

Accurate throws, powerful scrummaging, efficient rucking and an effective carrying game don't carry the same cachet, but McCartney seems equally as likely to play for Ireland when the pair qualify through residency in the autumn of 2017 and could well be the first-choice hooker come the 2019 World Cup.

However, that's far from his mind this week as he prepares for his adopted province's first final and he is happy to let this compatriot hog the headlines ahead of the Edinburgh game.

"I'm not sick of it at all, to be honest. My biggest accomplishment is seeing the team do well and if accolades come with that, then I'm happy enough," he said with a smile.

"Bundee's taking all of the spotlight, he's playing really well. He's been awesome for us, so I've got no qualms at all about giving him the credit."

For all that Aki is getting the credit outside the Connacht squad, McCartney's name creeps up just as often when the players are talking about key leaders within the dressing-room.

At 30, he is one of the most experienced players in the dressing-room with a bank of Super Rugby experience with the Blues under his belt.

During his time at home, he was coached by Lam, Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora and won a National Provincial Championship in 2007 alongside Isa Nacewa.

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