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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 23 January, 2020

First taste of life in the Ireland squad for Bleyendaal and Aki

The Kiwi pair, who’ll soon be eligible to represent Ireland, were at Carton House yesterday.

Tyler Bleyendaal and Bundee Aki.
Tyler Bleyendaal and Bundee Aki.
Image: INPHO

TYLER BLEYENDAAL AND Bundee Aki have moved a step closer to being capped by Ireland.

The duo were with an extended squad assembled by head coach Joe Schmidt for a one-day training run-out at Carton House yesterday.

Despite hailing from New Zealand, both players will soon be eligible to play for Ireland via the three-year residency rule.

Connacht centre Aki will become naturalised in October ahead of the November internationals against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina. Munster out-half Bleyendaal will have to wait until January.

Aki, who picked up the Guinness Pro12 player of the season award in May 2016, gave little away back in April when asked about the possibility of pledging his allegiance to Ireland. The 27-year-old can also represent New Zealand and Samoa.

“I do want to play at the highest level, which is international rugby, but I need to focus on Connacht,” said the Auckland native, who signed a new three-year contract with Connacht last October.

“I can’t think ahead of myself. Ireland have quality players. Jeez, they have a lot of good players there. I can’t parachute my way in there. I’ve got to just put my head down and do what I want to do, perform week in week out, perform consistently. When the time arises it arises but for the moment my focus is just Connacht.”

Bleyendaal, who hails from Christchurch, captained New Zealand to victory in the 2010 Junior World Championship in Argentina. The 27-year-old was named Munster’s player of the year for last season.

Rugby’s residency law has been a controversial topic in recent seasons, with the likes of Jared Payne, CJ Stander, Richardt Strauss, Quinn Roux and others qualifying to play for Ireland after living here for three years.

Earlier this year, World Rugby announced that the residency period to be eligible for international rugby will increase from three to five years, but the change won’t take effect until 2021.

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Paul Dollery

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