Connacht boss Andy Friend says the inclusion of Bundee Aki in the Lions squad for their upcoming tour to South Africa is "due recognition".
The New Zealander moved to Connacht in 2014 and helped the province to a memorable Guinness Pro12 title in 2016.
A year later he became Ireland-qualified and was part of the 2018 Grand Slam-winning side.
A red card, his second for Ireland, against England in the Six Nations in March didn't count against the powerful centre as earlier today he was named in Warren Gatland’s 37-man panel, becoming just the fourth Connacht player to be picked in a squad.
"[It’s] fantastic news," said Friend.
"We were all sitting in the changing room watching on telly.
"There was a hope that Bundee might get there, probably a distant hope, but when it happened it was an enormous cheer and jubilation around the place.
"It was due recognition for a guy who made a lot of sacrifices – both he and his family.
"He’s a hell of a footballer, for Connacht, for Ireland and for the British and Irish Lions – it’s a huge compliment for him."
For those of you that are asking…— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) May 6, 2021
🦁 Ray McLoughlin (1966, 1971)
🦁 John O'Driscoll (1980, 1983)
🦁 Ciaran Fitzgerald (1983)
🦁 Bundee Aki (2021) pic.twitter.com/ruzVL4fNc7
Aki, 31, is one of eight Irish players who made the squad and Friend believes the 31-cap back will be a useful addition to the tour, which starts in Murrayfield against Japan on 26 June and culminates in a third Test against the Springboks in Johannesburg on 7 August.
"On the field, you know what you’re going to get," said Friend.
"With ball in hand, he’s going to go forward for you. Without the ball in hand, he’ll going to work hard to get that ball back for you.
"He brings aggression, he brings physicality, which I think they’re going to need against South Africa.
"Off the field, he has an amazing capacity to lighten up a room and bring a positive energy to a group.
"He’s one of rugby’s characters and on an eight-week tour like the one the Lions are going to go on, you’re going to need someone like him.
"We now have our fourth British and Irish Lion to add to the list with the three others and a bloke in [former Connacht, current Leinster centre] Robbie Henshaw who was a very significant part of the club too.
"That’s what you get when you come to Connacht, you get an opportunity to play and to show yourself off and sharpen your skills on the rugby field.
"If you’re good enough, as we’ve seen today, people are going to notice you."
Speaking about what many perceived as a surprise selection, Gatland said: "On the Bundee situation, I thought that combination of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw was outstanding for Ireland against England.
"We've got to be able to have that balance between the physicality that they bring, and also the ability for us to play rugby - and I think both of those players have got that.
"They can mix it, and be able to roll their sleeves up when it does get tough, but they also can play some pretty positive and very attractive rugby also."
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