Thursday 26 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
James Crombie/INPHO Henshaw and Aki start together for Ireland tomorrow.
# Bond
'We know each other inside out' - Aki excited to rekindle partnership with Henshaw
The Ireland centre also spoke about CJ Stander’s impending retirement.

THIS SIX NATIONS Championship has surely tested Bundee Aki’s patience.

It is rare that the Ireland centre partnership which starts the tournament sees it out, with injury often plaguing that area of the squad and forcing the head coach’s hand in terms of selection.

That had not been the case this year, with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose starting every game, and, until the latter’s rare off-day in Murrayfield last Sunday, playing well together.

As such Aki has had to wait until the final weekend of Ireland’s championship to get his opportunity, with Ringrose’s ankle injury opening the door for the Connacht centre to make his first appearance in this Six Nations.

Aki, who came into the tournament recovering from a knee injury, says he’s understood the decision to leave him waiting in the wings.

“You know, you can’t argue the fact that the two boys have been playing phenomenal,” Aki says.

“Every week that we’ve had chat with Andy, he’s been nailing it on the head – he can’t make any changes when the two lads are playing well. You’ve got to keep that centre partnership going and the time will come, so you’ve just got to be patient about it.”

Aki comes into the team to partner the squad’s form player, Henshaw, with whom he formed a close bond during their days together at Connacht. When naming his team yesterday Farrell spoke about how the two players tend to bring the best out of each other. 

Aki admits that closeness off the pitch helps the partnership run smoothly on it.

We’ve been playing with each for a while. We’re very good mates off the pitch as well. So we stay connected. As a close friend, I know his family really well and he knows mine so we’re fairly close so that’s part of the reason why we gel and get along so easily. 

“He’s in great form and playing phenomenal rugby. I keep saying it to him every week. I don’t what he’s doing but just keep doing it. He’s playing some unbelievable rugby and I’m just glad to see it, and it’s nice to watch when you’re sitting back on your couch or on the side of the pitch cheering him on.

robbie-henshaw-and-bundee-aki-celebrate-after-the-game Gary Carr / INPHO Aki and Henshaw are close friends off the pitch. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s just great to see him play very well and get to the potential he knows he can get to.”

Aki isn’t really one to talk up his own strengths, but is happy to discuss how Henshaw has taken his game to a new level recently.

“Obviously he’s playing at a high level with the boys consistently (at Leinster), inside and outside, Ringer and Sexton, so they know each very well when they come to the high level of international.

“They know each other and I think the more they play the game, the more he’s starting to get and the more calm (he is on the pitch)… he’s knows the game a lot better the more he plays and I think he just understands it and knows when to do it, and what to do in certain times of the game, and he’s certainly doing it right.”

Aki was speaking from the squad’s hotel shorty after Farrell had named his squad for tomorrow’s game. As the call started, CJ Stander momentarily popped up on screen, shared a quick joke with Aki and disappeared out of view.

Stander is a clearly a much-loved member of the playing squad, and Aki admits his retirement announcement this week came totally out of the blue.

“I was very surprised, we were all pretty shocked about it but you got to respect his decisions and he has got really valid decisions,” Aki says.

Exclusive Six
Nations Analysis

Get Murray Kinsella’s exclusive analysis of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign this spring

Become a Member

cj-stander-and-bundee-aki James Crombie / INPHO Stander and Aki catch up after an interpro. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“He obviously values his family as much as I do. Fair play to him, he is top of his form at the minute and he made a decision that is best for his family. We fully back him.  

“The squad accepted his decision fairly easy. Obviously it was tough at the time when he announced it – it just shows the impact he has had on every one of us during the time he has been playing, not just for Ireland but for Munster.

“What he has done for that club week in week out, and for the green jersey, it just shows how much it means to him.

“(But) You’ve got to look after your family first before anything else. I think CJ has done what is best for him and his family. We fully back him.”  

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey preview Ireland’s game against England and try to figure out where this team is going under Andy Farrell, if anywhere:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

Related Tags


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