12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Tongan international Andrew Mailei is due to join Connacht in the coming weeks after signing a one-year contract with the westerners.
The 25-year-old, who made his debut for Tonga against Wales in 2001, is the first international from the Pacific Islands to sign for Connacht. Michael Bradley's side begin their European Challenge Cup campaign at home at Amatori Catania tomorrow.
The IRFU gave Connacht clearance to find a replacement for long-term injury concern Mark McHugh. The Connacht stalwart sustained a serious knee injury (severed lateral knee ligaments) against Leicester Tigers in a pre-season friendly in August.
Mailei, a talented centre, will arrive in Galway after a season with New Zealand NPC side North Harbour. The Auckland-born back was a replacement in last weekend's NPC Division One semi-final 38-24 loss to Auckland.
While ineligible for the pool stages of the Challenge Cup, Mailei will come into the squad if Connacht can make the latter stages for the fourth consecutive season.
"We have been looking for a player to strengthen the midfield area and give us options and we are very pleased Mailei will be joining us here in Connacht," coach Bradley told the Galway Advertiser newspaper.
"He has international experience, he is a line-breaker going forward, is strong defensively and can play in a number of positions. We are quite excited about him joining us."
Mailei is the third player from New Zealand rugby to sign for Connacht this season. Lock Andrew Gallagher, another former North Harbour player, is already stationed in Galway, while Irish-qualified prop Hamish Mitchell has also arrived from Taranaki.
The 24-year-old Mitchell turned down a new contract offer from NPC outfit Taranaki to join the Celtic League's bottom side and is eligible for the Challenge Cup.