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'It has been a hell of a journey and a hell of a night. I'm lost for words'

Bundee Aki shared a special moment with his family and friends after a fine Ireland debut.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

HIS FIRST ACT in an Ireland jersey ultimately laid the platform for a record-breaking victory over South Africa, as Bundee Aki’s much-anticipated debut lived up to every expectation.

Bundee Aki celebrates after the game Bundee Aki enjoyed a fine debut. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

After an emotional rendition of Ireland’s Call, the Connacht man took mere seconds to announce himself on the international stage and impose himself on this game. He had waited a while for the moment.

Johnny Sexton hit Coenie Oosthuizen and Aki lined him up, driving the tighthead prop backwards and setting the tone for what was to come on a night which leaves huge grounds for optimism for the season ahead.

Aki brought energy, enthusiasm and passion to the Ireland performance and was heavily involved in both attack and defence as the hosts rushed up to squeeze the Springboks and stamp their authority all over proceedings.

The stats are witness to his impact; 17 tackles (the most of any Irish player), four carries and a seamless introduction to Test rugby.

“It was good, it has been a long journey for myself, my family and friends,” Aki said at full-time.

“I thank the Lord for blessing me, and for this game tonight and my brothers here helping me through the last two weeks. It has been a hell of a journey and a hell of a night. I’m lost for words.”

At the end of a week which was dominated by column inches about Aki’s inclusion in Schmidt’s squad, the moment the Kiwi-born centre greeted his family and friends after the final whistle underlined what it meant to him.

“Putting on an Irish jersey is a privilege, you don’t take anything for granted and I surely don’t,” Aki added.

Bundee Aki takes a picture with his 6 year old daughter Adrianna Aki and family members Aki and his family and friends after the final whistle. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Whatever jersey I wear, I always do it with pride and I always be the best player I can be for the squad. It’s a privilege for me to put on the Irish jersey and the amount of supporters and people who were texting me during the week was phenomenal. I can’t thank everybody enough.”

Schmidt also reserved special praise for the debutant.

“I don’t think anyone was surprised that the synergy was pretty good there,” the head coach said of the Aki-Henshaw midfield axis.

“Bundee got in some smashing tackles, one where we got the turnover and CJ got on the ball.

“He is a very calm character. In training during the week, quiet words. He brings a fair bit of experience even though it as his debut today. He and Robbie have a real understanding and that was part of what made it a little bit more comfortable for us putting that combination together.

“I thought Bundee was super.”

A glimpse of what’s to come.

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Ryan Bailey

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