Connacht head coach Pete Wilkins has addressed the ongoing speculation around Ireland's Bundee Aki's playing time in a press conference.
Aki, who is one of Ireland and Connacht best centres has not featured for his province since the loss to Ulster on 23 December.
Questions have emerged around Aki's future involvement at the province and this has been thrown into further doubt with the excellent form of Cathal Forde.
The New Zealand born rugby player also did not feature against Cell C Sharks and Brive, which Connacht won both times. It's also not guaranteed that he will play in Connacht's Challenge Cup game against the Newcastle Falcons this weekend.
Addressing the noise around Aki, Wikins claimed that the competition in that part of the field has been excellent and that throwing him straight back in isn't as straightforward as it seems
"Bundee is absolutely available," said Wilkins. "He has trained really well with us this week. At the same time he’s in a position where there’s a fair amount of competition. Cathal Forde has done a terrific job since he got his opportunity against the Sharks.
"Even in that 13 position, Tom Farrell has been a real strength there for us and Byron Ralston played really well in the week just gone.
"It’s a busy position group. You’ve got guys like Tom Daly who can’t even get a look in at the moment despite being a quality player.
'There’s been a lot of talk (about Bundee). He’s absolutely available, he’s trained with us this week, he’s trained really well. But at the same time, he’s in a position where there is a fair amount of competition.' @dk3lly https://t.co/9iuLcTQDhY
— Independent Sport (@IndoSport) January 17, 2023
"Bundee is available but we’ll have to see what we do around the management of that group of centres."
He was also asked if Aki would still be at the province next season, Wilkins replied: "Absolutely. I’m not partial to everyone’s contract negotiations and situation, but Bundee has been an important part of this club for a long time and I’ve no doubt he’ll continue to contribute.
"He’s in a good headspace and the club values him. That’s important."
The Connacht head coach also addressed the topic of Ireland's upcoming Six Nations squad, which Andy Farrell is expected to announce on Thursday
Wilkins added that they would try and help the 32-year-old with his Ireland goals as best they can
"We want to support Bundee in terms of his Irish ambitions," said Wilkins. "We want to help support the national team as well and we are in regular contact with Andy Farrell and the other coaches in terms of how players are going and the type of lead-in they're getting when hopefully going into camps. There is a really good line of communication there.
Connacht's game against Newcastle takes place this Saturday at 17.30pm
A bonus-point win could clinch a home tie in the Challenge Cup knockouts for Connacht.