WE’VE COME TO expect players to speak with more than a hint of dread at the prospect of picking through matches in a Joe Schmidt Monday video review.
Those infamous details ensure nobody is ever short of something to go away and work on.
For Bundee Aki, there’s another critical appraisal to get through after games. The voice comes down the phone line from half a world away, but the tones have resonated with him powerfully all his life.
It’s Hercules and Sautia Aki with some insight direct from Manurewa in south Auckland.
The sort of call that just isn’t allowed to go unanswered.
“They all just stay at home and get up in the early hours of the morning and watch it, and then just go back to sleep and then go to church in the morning.
“I get a phone call every Monday after the games from the old man and mum, trying to tweak my game.”
So it seems the rest of the squad get off lightly with detailed appraisals confined to the workplace. Hercules is a stickler rivalling even Schmidt.
“He’s a very tough critic… yeah, I’m always pleased to have parents like that who are always tough on me and making sure I do well, so yeah, it’s good.
“Just making sure that I’m doing everything right and obviously the game (against Italy) my handling skills weren’t great, so he gave me an earful on that and he was making sure I’ll do it right next time.
“It’s always good knowing that your parents are always trying to tweak your game. They can see a different side of it and sometimes I can slip alright… and here’s another earful!”
Efforts to avoid an earful early next week will be focused on adapting to a new midfield partner against Wales. With Robbie Henshaw injured in the act of try-scoring against Italy, Schmidt could opt to rush Garry Ringrose back or switch Aki out a spot and bring Rory Scannell in. But these would be far more risky options than a renewal of the Chris Farrell-Aki axis that proved successful against Argentina — with far less preparation time than the fortnight leading into this game.
Though he has only four caps to his name, Aki is a leader no matter what environment he is thrust into. He will take charge of midfield matters on Saturday and neither he or Farrell will be using a single-digit caps haul as an excuse for falling short.
“I’m just as new as Chris is and we have to make sure that we put our head down and work for each other. The likes of Johnny (Sexton) and Robbie (Henshaw) and (Keith) Earlsy have been working hard for each other for a very long time. We just have to make sure that we work as hard as they have. If (Farrell) gets the nod he is a class player. He does everything right and he is a strong, big boy.”
“We had a good go together against Argentina, but we are always looking to improve and we have to make sure that we go out there and take another step forwards.”
There was never much serious doubt that Aki would thrive at international level. Having waited until he was 27 and about as far away from Auckland as it is possible to get before winning his first cap, he has a hunger that gives him an edge and makes him appear comfortable on the big stage.
“You always have to feel comfortable and, at the same time, always be on edge. You can’t be complacent because there is always someone ready to take the spot. You can’t be too comfortable. You have to be doing the right things at the right time.”
Back in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, Aki will have the edge sharpened and ready to create more special memories.
On his debut night in November, a touching post-match moment was captured after Aki went to celebrate the win over South Africa with his brothers and cousins – scheduled to holiday in Ireland for a month, but ending up staying more than double that – wife Kayla and youngest daughter Adrianna.
“It was probably the most satisfying thing because family were there to watch me play,” says the Connacht centre, ”I wanted to play well and they were there to witness it and support me.”
Kayla has the group photo framed and in pride of place in their Galway home, a spark to set off thousands of memories shared with those in the image.
And a reminder, in between the testing Monday debrief sessions, that family are never really that far away.