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# November Tests
Aki already a critical component for 'destabilised' Ireland
“He brings energy but he also brings calm.”

A MONTH AGO, the thought of Bundee Aki pulling on an Ireland jersey was a tantalising prospect.

One game down, and he’s already more of a security blanket than a frivolous extra adornment.

Because with Robbie Henshaw hamstrung, Ireland will face Argentina with a three-quarter that is extremely low on experience – in terms of caps won at least.

Fortunately, Aki has a wealth of education that will massively bolster the grand total of five Test appearances that jerseys 11 to 14 have to their name.

Bundee Aki Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“We were really happy with Bundee (against South Africa),” Joe Schmidt said awarding Aki a second cap with yesterday’s team announcement.

“His tackle count was high and accurate, his ability to transfer ball was nice and compact and accurate, his decision-making is good, he connects well defensively. All of those things are positive.”

The Kiwi adds that Aki may have been considered for duty at outside centre were it not for the lateness of Henshaw’s hamstring cmplaint. That strain brought Aki’s fellow one-capper Chris Farrell, who has played all his rugby with Munster, and most of his time with Grenoble, in the 13 jersey.

“At that stage we were half way through the week and Bundee, as much as he has had a lot of experience at Super Rugby level, he hasn’t really had that experience at Test level. So we did not want to be shifting him around too much.”

Though only 27, Aki already gives off the impression of being a hardened old veteran. Hitting hard in attack and defence certainly doesn’t hinder that image, but it’s also Aki’s attitude that makes him a leader who players happily row in behind. And the Kiwi says the new addition to the squad has been dropping some nuggets of wisdom around Carton House.

“He brings energy but he also brings calm, Bundee,” says Schmidt.

The fact that Bundee says: ‘we don’t do stress here, we just need to stay clear in our heads and get the right thing done’. That is a nice thing to have and that is what experience can do for the guys around them.

“It can keep them calm rather than start to think: ‘what decision do I take here?’

“Because as soon as you start talking about making a decision and if it’s not in line with somebody else’s decision, that is where you get a fractured defensive line and that is where you get yourself into trouble.”

Bundee Aki and Jonathan Sexton Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

While Schmidt adds that he is trying not to ask too much of Aki and instead shouldering more responsibility for marshalling the defence on Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney, the Connacht man brings precisely the sort of clarity in decision-making that Schmidt needs in what he calls ‘destabilised periods’.

Argentina 2015 was one such episode, when a raft of injuries put them on the back foot from minute one. That experience has coloured much of Schmidt’s efforts to create depth over the summer and this month.

An injured Henshaw may complicate the task of completing a November sweep of victories, but Schmidt is prepared to view it as a long-term positive.

Robbie being unavailable wasn’t something we’d foreseen, he would have added more experience to that three-quarter-line. But part of the attraction for us is that, a little like last week, guys will have to independently survive and make good decisions – not have somebody directing them around the pitch.

“We would rather we had someone right there to assist them, but sometimes that doesn’t happen – someone gets injured early in the game and destabilises them. We want to be able to play our way through destabilised periods.

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“That really started last November, we scrambled our way to a win over Australia with a very makeshift back-line. There was some real experience in that back-line as well, Keith Earls was outstanding that day as he went from wing to centre and doing a super job.

“We’ve had a few opportunities to try and survive big games when we haven’t had the preparation we wanted. Conor pulled out on the Thursday we played England, Rob Kearney was unavailable on the Thursday, so Jared Payne had to step in with very little training and then pre-match Jamie Heaslip had to step out (before kick-off) and Dan Leavy stepped on to the bench.

Joey Carbery and Kieran Marmion celebrate James Crombie / INPHO Joey Carbery, running from fullback, and Kieran Marmion, operating as a wing, celebrate against the Wallabies. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“They all acquitted themselves really well, including Luke McGrath who came from third choice into second-choice into the fire at the end and negotiated his way through it really well – no different than Joey Carbery in Chicago last year.

“It’s not always going to work out perfectly like that, I suppose the more opportunities we have to test people in those situations, the more they’ll learn about themselves, the more they’ll be better equipped to cope in the Six Nations or further.”

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