First international try 'something special', but Aki refuses to ease off the pedal

The Connacht man opened his try-scoring account with a powerful barge over the line in the first half of Ireland’s win over Italy.

Sean Farrell reports from Aviva Stadium

WITH OPENSIDE BRAAM Steyn in close attendance, Tomasso Castello and Tommy Allan appeared well set to deal with the next Ireland carry as they stood on their own try-line.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

Unfortunately for them, Conor Murray’s pass zipped past Jack Conan and connected with a ferocious, angled Bundee Aki carry and their 20th minute efforts to stop him were ultimately in vain.

The 27-year-old has had to wait a long time to be an international. In that burst the hunger for a first Test try was there for all to see.

“In the beginning I was just happy to get over the line,” Aki said post-match in the Aviva Stadium, “to be able to help out the boys and get the score on the board was a bonus.

“To get my first try for this team was something special.”

The slaps on the back came in thick and fast, but there wasn’t anything demonstrative about the way Aki celebrated. One job done, on to the next one. Perhaps it’s just as well, because Joe Schmidt felt the need to accentuate the work-ons for his inside centre.

“Bundee will probably be disappointed with his handling at some times. He prides himself on looking after the ball,” said the Kiwi.

Bundee Aki celebrates scoring his sides third try with Jonathan Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Though Schmidt did soon follow up with deserved praise on performance which included a clinical try assist for Keith Earls along with numerous effective cuts into the defensive line, Aki was indeed disappointed – maybe even as a result of a post-match chat with his coach.

“We’re very happy with the result, but we’ve got a lot to work on next week,” the centre noted.

“Our execution, myself included, simple things, holding onto the ball and building phases. The Italians put us under a lot of pressure. They are playing with a lot of pride and heart now. It was difficult to throw the ball around under that.”

Difficult, but not so difficult as to stop Aki helping his side to a bonus point before the halfway stage. Aki is enjoying the chance to perform on the big stage and looks right at home at Test level, but four caps in, he’s not willing to rest on his laurels any time soon.

“A try is just a bonus really. As you can see, in our team there’s a lot of quality players, you can’t take anything for granted.

“So you’ve got to keep going, keep playing and make sure you keep improving and making sure you’re putting your hand up to fight for that spot again. You’re never stamped into a team. It’s all about just doing your job properly.”

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Bundee Aki with Luca Bigi and Marcello Violi Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Aside from the few dropped balls he shoulders the blame for, the job being done by the 12 is certainly making this Ireland team a more complete unit. And barring an unforseeable disaster in the training camp in Athlone next week, he will be the first centre on Schmidt’s team-sheet for Wales.

Aki wasn’t fully aware of the extent of Henshaw’s shoulder injury post-match, but it appears unlikely that his old Connacht midfield partner will feature again in this Championship run.

“If (Henshaw’s) not there for the next couple of weeks it would be a big loss. He’s a big leader in the backline, But whoever steps up I’m sure will do a great job.”

The former Waikato Chief may again be used in tandem with Chris Farrell, or perhaps Garry Ringrose will time his return perfectly. Either way, Aki has the skill-set to make new partnerships look remarkably seamless.

Juat as he makes solid blue lines look remarkably rickety.

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Sean Farrell

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