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Winning the Grand Slam won't change me, insists Aki

 

By Cian Tracey

When Bundee Aki collapsed in a heap to the Twickenham turf, and a stretcher was immediately called for, Connacht's season momentarily threatened to fully derail.

It's unfair to suggest that Connacht are a one-man team, but the fact remains, Aki is central to their hopes of making it back to the Champions Cup.

Thankfully, the hugely influential centre was well enough to walk off on his own.

"I felt good," Aki says.

"The celebrations can tell the rest of the story but I felt good after it. I was glad to come off the field all well and was happy to celebrate with all the boys."

Returning to the Sportsground this week has brought Aki crashing down to earth after the high of winning a Grand Slam in his first Six Nations Championship.

The 27-year old is one of several players who have never lost for Ireland, but he has had little time to dwell on it, particularly with Connacht's season on the line against Gloucester this weekend.

The Westerners' best route back to the Champions Cup is via the Challenge Cup and, despite their patchy form, they will fancy themselves at home to David Humphrey's side.

Aki is in line to return on Saturday, as is another one of the Grand Slam heroes Kieran Marmion, and they have already lifted the mood within the squad.

"Well, it's noisier, but that's a good thing," head coach Kieran Keane smiled when asked what Aki has brought back to the environment.

"It's always good to be back around Connacht, the lads that are here are really loud, like myself," Aki laughs.

"It's good to be back running on that dirty (training) pitch. The puddle pitch, I guess I could say. I'm not used to it from the last eight weeks but it's good."

It's certainly a different world to the plush surrounds of Carton House and, while Aki insists that he hasn't returned to the Connacht setup as a different player, there is no question that he will have improved having spent the last two months under Joe Schmidt's watch.

"I'm coming in from the Irish squad, I think the lads here have been playing together for the last eight weeks," he maintains.

"At the moment it feels like I'm the new player in the squad as well, there's a lot of new plays. I've got to make sure I do my homework and make sure I fit into the team this week."

Aki was one of Ireland's unsung heroes, particularly in the how he seamlessly switched centre partners throughout the campaign.

He was the one constant in Ireland's midfield until his involvement was prematurely curtailed against England.

Connacht will need Aki to hit the ground running this week if they are to keep their European ambitions alive.

Encouragingly for Ireland and Connacht supporters, Aki still feels like he has plenty of room for improvement.

"I wouldn't say (I feel) settled, I feel comfortable being there, but as a player you always want to improve how you want to be and how you want to play," he adds.

"It is something I'm looking forward to doing and keep improving my game.

"Winning any silverware it's great.

"It's a great achievement of how hard you've worked and where you've come from."

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