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'He met a couple of the Samoan boys yesterday for a bit of grub'

Bundee Aki is coming into his own on and off the field of play.

Bundee Aki.
Bundee Aki.

SATURDAY’S POOL ENCOUNTER with Samoa is one of paramount importance for Ireland but it’s significant for Bundee Aki for another reason, too: the Connacht centre will line out against the country of his parents’ birth to face off with childhood friends and even former schools rugby rivals, his adopted country’s World Cup hopes potentially on the line depending on what becomes of the endangered Japan-Scotland fixture a day later.

Aki’s conversion to Irishism was embraced by many, met with scorn from others, but what hasn’t been divisive is his recent form in Ireland’s midfield. The fact that Garry Ringrose is no longer one of the first names on Joe Schmidt’s teamsheet is proof enough of that, as are his explosive carries at a tournament in which Ireland are ranked sixth in clean breaks among the Six Nations and Rugby Championship nations as well as conquerors Japan, and eighth in metres made.

More intangible, though, is his capacity to imbue his international team-mates off the pitch as well as on it.

“Yeah, Bundee, since he came in, has added real value,” says talisman lock James Ryan. “He’s really looking forward to this week. He met a couple of the Samoan boys yesterday for a bit of grub.

“On the pitch, he brings a real physical edge and he’s so combative. Off it, he’s great craic — well able to have a laugh and everything else. So, he’s been super since he’s come in.

“He leads with his actions when he plays. He puts in big hits, he makes big carries. He’s a very easy person to follow in that regard.

He really leads in the way he plays. If he puts in a big hit or goes forward with the ball, I think it gives everyone a lift. So the more we can get him doing that, the better.

bundee-aki-and-rory-best Bundee Aki and Rory Best. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy shares Ryan’s sentiments about Aki’s role as a driving force, but has been equally impressed by his durability — especially with Ireland’s options at centre depleted at various junctures during their campaign in Japan.

At 29, the Auckland-born powerhouse is likely in his physical prime. But he’s coming into his own within the group environment, too. And perhaps just in the nick of time.

“From a coach’s point of view, his resilience and ability to be able to play every week [is impressive],” says Murphy.

We’ve had a situation where himself, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell have been fighting it out for those positions, but Bundee is the one probably guy who has been available most of the time.

“It’s been fantastic to have him, he’s come into the group and fitted in really well.

He loves living down in Galway, he’s a big part of the community down there but within the group, he’s taken a big stride on this year and is getting into leadership roles. Driving the team both on and off the pitch.

Andy Dunne and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to preview Ireland-Samoa, and discuss the utter farce of Typhoon Hagibis.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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