Ireland centre Bundee Aki believes that Connacht will still be in the shake-up for the Guinness Pro14 title this season, despite winning just one of their three festive inter-provincial ties.

The Westerners beat Ulster but lost to Munster and threw away a bid lead against Leinster. They are in fourth place in Conference A, seven points behind leaders Munster but level on points with third-placed Ospreys.

A top-three finish is required to make the league play-offs and guarantee a Champions Cup spot for next season.

"We are very disappointed with our two defeats," Aki told RTÉ Sport at an open training session at Gort Rugby Club attended by 500 children.

"Munster are a good team, Leinster, we're very disappointed we didn't come out with the win there, but if we keep working as a team and a group we can get there at the business end.

"We've just got to make sure that we win those crucial games.

"We've got to make sure that we keep ticking over for the 80th minute, not just the 40th or 50th minute. We sort of gave up.

"We've got to keep pushing right to the end and hopefully we can play in the play-offs.

Andy Friend's charges turn their thoughts back towards Europe this weekend, and a crunch Challenge Cup clash against a Sale side that hasn't been beaten since November.

"It's a must-win for us. Sale is in great form," said Aki. "They beat Saracens last week so it's not an easy task.

"We're looking forward to the challenge."

The Six Nations is just three weeks ago and the World Cup looms on the Autumn horizon but Aki insists his focus is purely on Connacht right now.

"There is a big picture but you've got to keep stepping in the smaller picture," he said. "I find I haven't really thought about any international (games).

"I want to keep performing week-in, week-out because we have a lot of competition going on. You just need to focus on the team and yourself, play well and everything will take of itself."

Aki does admit that it would be nice to have a few more provincial team-mates in the mix for a green shirt in the coming campaigns and singles out fellow centre Tom Farrell as a potential candidate for promotion.

"The likes of Tom Farrell has played well throughout the season, not just in that one game (against Munster) but he's been performing very well even last season. He's been unbelievable.

"It's testament to the boys' hard work and there are a lot of boys that I think deserve to be in there.

"It is what it is. We just have to keep putting our heads down and perform for our team.

"When the door comes knocking I'm sure those boys will take it with two hands."