Bundee Aki and Conor Murray during this morning's squad session in Carton House. Billy Stickland/INPHO
residency debate

'Bundee hasn't done anything wrong': Murray says selection criticism is unfair

The Kiwi native is in line to make his Ireland debut against the Springboks on Saturday.

CONOR MURRAY HAS defended the inclusion of Bundee Aki in Ireland’s November series squad, labelling the criticism the Connacht centre has received from various quarters as ‘unfair.’

Aki is in line to make his Ireland debut on Saturday when Joe Schmidt’s side face South Africa at the Aviva Stadium having become eligible by virtue of the contentious three-year residency rule.

The New Zealand-born centre joined Connacht in 2014 and has played an integral role in the province’s successes over the last couple of seasons, with his performances earning him a call-up to Schmidt’s squad at the first available opportunity.

Aki, 27, follows the likes of Richardt Strauss, CJ Stander, Rob Herring and Jared Payne in declaring allegiance for Ireland on the back of the residency period, a rule which has split opinion over the issue of integrity.

Former Ireland international Neil Francis reopened the debate last night by stating Aki’s inclusion in the national squad is ‘fundamentally wrong’, but Murray isn’t of the same belief.

Speaking at the team hotel in Carton House this afternoon, the Munster scrum-half said Ireland are lucky to have a player of Aki’s calibre available and it’s unjust to single him out.

“Yeah, I think [it is unfair]. It’s tough on a player like that,” he said.

“He came over here and has played rugby and qualified for Ireland in the right way. I know people have different opinions on that [qualification process] but if you’re just looking at calling a player and singling a player out like that, and giving someone abuse or a hard time about it, I think it’s really unfair.

“Bundee hasn’t done anything wrong. He has come into the squad. He’s a bubbly guy, he has lots of character and he’s working really hard; and he’s an awesome player. For us, we’re lucky to have him in our squad. It’s definitely unfair for someone to receive that heat off the media when he hasn’t done anything wrong.

Conor Murray Murray speaking at Carton House earlier. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“He just loves playing rugby and he’s looking to get the opportunities and hopefully he’ll get one, and show people how good he is. And quieten people.”

When asked if the criticism has affected Aki, Murray added: ”He’s just buzzing around the place and enjoying training, and that side of it.

“For me, I’m sure he’s seen it as we see most things, whether it be on your phone or someone telling you. You’re going to see it. From what I see, he’s handling it really well and just enjoying rugby.”

If Aki does get the nod on Saturday, Murray said he might feel he has something extra to prove in a green jersey.

He said: “That’s probably a little bit unfair on him again. If he does get to play at the weekend, it’s a massive occasion and a massive opportunity for him, and then to have that sort of heat on him again is probably frustrating for him.

“He’s a strong player, a competitive person and I’m sure he’ll just take it on his shoulders and move forward with it. I don’t see it being a problem. I don’t think it’s fair to be singling out someone like that.”

Furthermore, Murray dismissed the suggestion that the criticism has racist undertones.

“I think it’s just an issue with some people having an opinion like that. It happened when CJ [Stander] qualified a while back as well. People seemed to have an issue with that but I don’t think that would be part of it.”

Bundee Aki isn’t the first player to represent Ireland under the residency rules, and he won’t be the last. Let’s move on.

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