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Connacht backing Bundee Aki to be an 'energy giver' for the Lions

The 31-year-old says he’s grateful to be able to represent the western province on tour.

Bundee Aki at Connacht training this week.
Bundee Aki at Connacht training this week.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

CONNACHT ARE CONFIDENT that Bundee Aki can make a big impact on and off the pitch for the Lions this summer after the centre’s surprise inclusion in Warren Gatland’s squad. 

Aki has been a key man for the western province since 2014, while he has racked up 31 Ireland caps since his Test debut in 2017. 

Connacht head coach Andy Friend was contacted by one of the Lions coaching staff before they named their final 37-man squad and had no hesitation in recommending Aki.

“He’s an energy giver, he’s an extrovert, and he’s one of the most larger-than-life characters,” said Friend. “He can be loud in a good way, he can be loud in a bad way too but as long as you give him the right sort of framework, he’s good with that.

“I was asked by one of the coaches prior to the announcement if Bundee Aki would be good on an eight-week Lions tour and I said he would be brilliant because he will energise the group as long as he’s given a framework and parameter to work in.

“He’s a great bloke to have in the changing room and on the field when he’s on song and if he’s on song for those eight weeks, he’ll be brilliant.”

With time running out before the Lions tour, Aki made a welcome return from suspension for Connacht last weekend against Benetton, having last played during the Six Nations with Ireland.

He is also set to feature on Friday against the Ospreys in what will be the western province’s final game of the 2020/21 season.

Aki has already been part of a Lions meet-up, joining Gatland’s squad in London last week for an administration day that also saw the players get their first Covid-19 vaccination shot.

bundee-aki Bundee Aki at a Lions meet-up in London last week. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Aki said there was “just chit-chat” rather than in-depth rugby meetings but he’s excited about getting into Lions camp in Jersey later this month as they begin their build-up to the tour of South Africa in earnest.

“I think the Springboks are a world-class team, they’re not world champions for no reason,” said Aki. “For me, I just need to worry about what I need to do and play to my own strengths.

“Whatever Warren Gatland sees for the team that he puts out at the weekend and that’s all for him. For me, I just need to be myself and add value to where I need to add value.”

While Aki obviously didn’t dream of playing for the Lions as a kid growing up in New Zealand, he was enthralled by the tour there in 2005 and has always found it fascinating that Test players can go one step higher with the touring side.

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Aki will take real pride in representing Connacht this summer.

“It means a lot,” said Aki. “The overwhelming welcome that I got from the Connacht community when I first arrived with my family, it was unbelievable. They were so good to my family, so supportive from day one.

“I could see how close and tight the community is, getting messages and letters from people I don’t know, the community that I live in in Oranmore putting up signs and it just shows how grateful I am to be part of a small community regardless of where I came from.

“The support I have from here is unbelievable and I’m so grateful to be part of this community and to represent it.”

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Murray Kinsella

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