'Whenever I put on that shirt I try and do the country proud, do my family proud'

The Ireland centre will have plenty of his extended family supporting him in Australia.

Murray Kinsella reports from Surfers Paradise

SORTING FAMILY AND friends out with match tickets is often a stress for rugby players and the demands have been greater than ever for Bundee Aki around Ireland’s three Tests in Australia.

The Connacht centre has relations in all three host cities. His father Hercules’ side of the family are based in Sydney, his mother Sautia’s are in Melbourne and there are more of the extended Aki family in Brisbane, where the first Test takes place on Saturday.

Bundee Aki Aki will have plenty of family support in Australia. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Aki’s wife, Kayla, has been handling most of the ticket requests and any worries about being able to provide for everyone will be well worth it when his family are there in person to watch Ireland attempting to win a series in Australia.

“It’s about trying to keep my head in the game and trying to catch up with them at the appropriate time,” says Aki. “They know I’ve got a bit of work to do.”

“I’m struggling at the moment [for tickets]! I am struggling to get everybody in there. They’re well aware that I only get a few tickets here and there but they’re well able to get some tickets for themselves if they have to. It’s always good to see them supporting me at the stadium.

“For this Brizzy game, I’m looking to get around 15 tickets already. The Melbourne one is a bit of struggle, there’s 25 people there that are already asking me for tickets and then obviously Sydney, all my Dad’s family, which is going to be a lot but I don’t know what the numbers are.

“Uncles and aunties and cousins! It is amazing but it’s pretty stressful as well. I just try and leave it to my partner to try and sort it all out. She can get the tickets for them if she has to, I’ll just try and focus on what I need to do here.”

That has involved easing into Ireland’s tour in the peaceful surroundings of the Royal Pine Resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast, about an hour’s drive south of Brisbane, with the good food and golf proving a hit with Aki.

Jared Payne and Bundee Aki during training Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having withdrawn from the Barbarians clash with England two weekends ago due to an ankle issue, the 28-year-old says he is now fully fit to tear into the Wallabies.

“If it wasn’t the ankle I probably would have pushed on and played on but you obviously need your ankle to run around and stuff like that so I needed to rest,” he explains.

The early end to Connacht’s season will mean that Aki hasn’t played for six weeks by the time the first Test against the Wallabies kicks off, though he stresses that the conditioning work he has been doing has him ideally prepared.

While Connacht finished their Pro14 campaign with a hammering of Leinster in Galway, New Zealander Kieran Keane was sacked the following week.

“Look, I wasn’t aware of the situation,” says Aki. “It’s one of those things that just happens and as a player, you obviously make good bonds with coaches and stuff like that and build a relationship with your coaches.

“I obviously had a good relationship with KK but I don’t know what happened there and as a rugby player, you’ve just got to make sure you put your head down and do what you’ve got to do. My job is to be the best that I can be and be the best teammate I can be. It is what it is and sometimes it is hard, this work environment.”

Australian Andy Friend has since been appointed as Connacht’s head coach on a three-year contract and Aki revealed that Friend may visit Ireland camp during this tour.

“It will be interesting to see how we can go,” says Aki of the new boss. “I’ve heard a lot of good stories about him, in sevens and 15s as well.

Bundee Aki Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s one of those things that as a player you want to learn. Coaches have their own way of coaching and you try and pick little bits here and there from different coaches and make yourself better.

“Hopefully, when he does come in he can make us better and I’m sure he will. I think I just need to focus on this thing now.”

“This thing” being Ireland’s attempt to secure a series success Down Under for the first time since 1979, although Aki says he wasn’t even aware that it had been so long.

He is likely to play an important role once again at the end of a superb first season as an Ireland international, in which his physical power and the more subtle aspects of his midfield play have stood out in Joe Schmidt’s team.

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Aki rates Ireland’s Grand Slam success as the highlight of his career so far.

“I didn’t realise how big it is to win a Grand Slam and how hard it is to win one,” says the Connacht man. “I realised in the room when we spoke at the captain’s run [before the England game] that only two of the lads had won the Grand Slam: Rory Best and Rob Kearney.

“That was a bit of a surprise for me, knowing that all the lads that I was standing next to, who have been in the squad for a while, hadn’t won a Grand Slam.

“To do it with them for the first time is something that I will cherish forever. It’s one of those things that you want to keep going; striving to get more and more trophies to win together as a team.

Bundee Aki Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s about bonding together as a group, I think we’re bonding really well at the moment.
There will be lows, but it’s one of those things that help you gel as a group.”

Aki still only has seven caps to his name but each of them have brought victory.

It’s not a record he spends any time thinking about, however, and instead, he will continue to focus on what truly motivates him.

“Just whenever I put on that shirt I try and do the country proud, do my family proud and put my best foot forward. Just like that you could easily lose that jersey or lose your position.

“It might be the last time wearing that jersey, so if I have a chance to wear it I want to make sure I give it everything and play like it’s my last game.”

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