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Bundee Aki has been crucial in Connacht’s re-emergence as top contenders, according to Brian O’Driscoll.

The explosive centre signed a new three-year deal with the western province that will keep him in Galway until 2023.

The former Ireland international was delighted to see that Aki had decided to stay on with Connacht after rumours that he would be playing abroad next year.

“It’s great news. There was obviously question marks about a big-money signing in France but yeah, another three-year contract for him.

“He has been very, very important in the rebuild of Connacht in the last season and a bit under Andy Friend as well. He’s their poster boy really.

“That loyalty that he showed - he obviously means business when it comes to more international honours as well.

“I think he would have run the gauntlet of going to France and testing what Andy Farrell is going to do on that overseas player rule.

“You’d imagine they’re going to keep steadfast on that. But anyway, he doesn’t have to worry about that for three seasons,” O’Driscoll said.

Ireland needs four strong provinces

Aki has been a key component in Connacht’s success in recent years and him, along with Kieran Marmion, re-signing shows the westerners have no intention of going back to being Ireland’s weakest side.

While O’Driscoll is a former Leinster player, he hopes to see other provinces continuing to perform well.

“Listen, why would you try to forge your international team from three teams if four teams are competing? It’s hugely beneficial to Ireland if four teams are competing well.

“If one falls off, not just Connacht - if they emerge as the second or third best team - it doesn’t matter. We need four teams competing well for European and domestic honours.

“And getting into the European Champions Cup each year in a perfect world because that drives standards and we don’t have that many professional rugby players in Ireland.

Ireland’s most capped player pointed out that for Connacht to continue to develop international-quality players, the standards of the whole team must remain high.

“We have 150, 160 professional rugby players. When you look at the numbers in France and England. We need that competition driven by teams excelling.

“And the best way for individuals to shine is in a team capacity when their team is going well. It’s pretty hard to be a stand-out player in a team that’s going backwards,” O’Driscoll said.

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