Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
PETER O’MAHONY HAS called into question the media’s role in the criticism surrounding the selection of Bundee Aki — the Kiwi-born, Irish-qualified centre — for Saturday’s Test against South Africa.
27-year-old Aki this month becomes eligible to represent Ireland by virtue of World Rugby’s three-year residency rule and was today included in Joe Schmidt’s side to face the Springboks.
Aki moved to Galway in 2014 and his call-up to the national squad has provoked intense debate over the contentious ruling, which World Rugby has since extended from three to five years to come into effect from January 2021.
And so it continued at today’s media briefing in Carton House, with O’Mahony following Conor Murray in launching a staunch defence of Aki and his inclusion in the squad.
“I’ve been very lucky enough to play alongside some super players that have benefited and have come in from that rule,” the Munster captain said.
“It’s a rule that stands there and Bundee, or any of the [previous] lads, have done nothing wrong. I can’t understand why there was such a focus on him, personally. I didn’t think it was very impressive from a media point of view, to be honest. That’s the job and the life that we run, and it is part and parcel of it, and I suppose it’s water off a duck’s back for him.”
Schmidt, meanwhile, admits he has sympathy for Aki.
“Sometimes where you’re born is less relevant than where you’re invested over the last period of time,” the head coach adds.
“I think Bundee has invested incredibly well in the west. They have benefited from his commitment, his ability and his durability.
Source: Billy Stickland
“It’s sometimes an unfortunate distraction, I do feel a little bit of sympathy for Bundee himself. He’s just doing what he loves doing, and what he’s good at.
“We just hope it doesn’t distract him. There’s no doubt in the player’s mind, that they are excited to have him in the group.”
Aki will renew his midfield partnership with Robbie Henshaw, the pair playing an integral role in Connacht’s sensational Pro12 title-winning season under Pat Lam in 2016.
“I didn’t see the day coming, but it’s great to link up with him again,” Henshaw says. “He’s a class player, and I enjoy playing off him and feeding off him.
“He’s added real value to our group, and the boys are really looking forward to expressing himself against the Springboks.”
Henshaw, like Schmidt, says he hasn’t taken much notice of the particularly personal attacks on Aki from various quarters this week.
“I haven’t really followed it to be honest,” he says, when asked if it annoyed him.
“I know him so well, he’s a great friend of mine, so it’s exciting to have him in and a player like that can only improve our team. We want to be as good as we can be.”
A welcome relief, then, come 5.30pm on Saturday when the focus turns to rugby again.
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