Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
# midfield combinations
Constant presence Aki happy to be on the right side of Chris Farrell fear factor
‘When you have a guy like him running down your channel, you’d be a bit scared. I know I would be.’

AMID ALL THE possible combinations and permutations in Ireland’s midfield, Bundee Aki has remained almost a constant in either 12 or 13 shirt since making his Test debut against South Africa in 2017.

While others have been left to rue untimely injuries to stall their progress and prevent them challenging for a sustained run in Joe Schmidt’s team, Aki has proven remarkably durable in winning 14 caps.

Bundee Aki Dan Sheridan / INPHO Aki in training today. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

While playing all five Grand Slam games last season, as well as two Tests in Australia and, of course, a pivotal role in the win over the All Blacks, the only centre in Ireland’s current squad who Aki has not partnered at Test level is Tom Farrell. Given their devastating combination with at provincial level, it seems only a matter of time.

“Tom is putting his head down, doing what he is told,” Aki said after training at Carton House today.

“He is working well, training hard. He is doing exactly what he is doing at Connacht. I’m sure when Tom gets the opportunity to pull on that green jersey, I’m sure he will perform as well as he does for Connacht.”

Against Scotland, Aki was in harness with Chris Farrell for the first time since the Munster powerhouse’s man-of-the-match display in the win over Wales last year. After a slight concern over a knee knock, the pair could be reunited this weekend, a prospect that Aki would advise Michele Campagnaro, or any opponents, to be braced for.

Chris Farrell with Greig Laidlaw Dan Sheridan / INPHO Farrell runs at Greig Laidlaw in the win over Scotland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Chris is a big boy and well able to look after himself at the moment,” said the Connacht stalwart.

“Came back in against Scotland and played really well. He’s an unbelievable player, he has a good skill set. He’s a big lad, is hard to take down.

When you have a guy like him running down your channel, you’d be a bit scared. I know I would be too.”

Aki casually brushes off the tag of ever-present in Schmidt’s back-line, leaning in to the notion that it is he who is slotting in as the contingency option rather than his many centre partners. However, building an array of combinations and options is certainly no harm ahead of the World Cup.

“The good thing about it is you are trying to create different combinations with different people which is really cool. You know how other guys how they play and what they like to do.

“I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, it’s about building properly together as a group during the week because you never know who is going to be playing. I think Joe nailed it throughout the week, making sure we got together in groups, in the partnerships. Making sure we get together, look at the analysis, talk to each other, how we’d defend, things like that. It’s about making sure everyone is on the same page. No one misses a beat. That’s what Joe has planted in us.”

Yet as for specific Schmidt requirements that have kept Aki in situ since 2017, the former Waikato Chief insists:

“He doesn’t demand anything of me. He just wants me to make sure I play the game, am comfortable, feel free to play and express myself, making sure I gel well with guys inside and outside of me. Not shying away from anything.”

“Joe has given a lot of confidence to most of the guys who came in at the last minute, as you saw with Will Addison last year, same as Chris Farrell. Joe has trust in a lot of the boys. Boys do perform really well when they are chucked in the deep end. I think that is something we have built on really well.”

Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel